Susanne Tabata

Region: Vancouver British Columbia
| Nanaimo British Columbia


Susanne Tabata is a documentarian and digital media creator whose passion is to find truth in overlooked subject material. She was born in Nanaimo and grew up in Tokyo and Victoria before moving to Vancouver to study International Relations at UBC. Her artistic practice is informed by the shadow of trauma experienced by her pre-war Japanese Canadian family. Themes of alienation or belonging are present in her work.

Tabata was a UBC CITR radio DJ prior to involvement as an on-camera host on the first underground cable television show Nite Dreems, which led to immersive involvement in the independent music scene in Vancouver and aesthetic influences from late 70s early 80s punk and gay disco. Music videos and video art form a style bed on which she has made a number of educational resource films including the Noam Chomsky keynoted Shaking the Tree: Social Responsibility in Education; the environmental film U-Turn narrated by Severn Cullis-Suzuki, and the award-winning Us & Them: Race Relations and Canadian Identity.

In 1996, CBC Newsworld discovered Talk to Me, a film which asks 10 diverse students to explore questions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and privilege. Well before ‘intersectionality’ this national broadcast opened the door to conversations in high school classrooms across Canada. Tabata is a film producer, producing Barenaked in America, the 35mm touring film of the Canadian band the Barenaked Ladies, screened at TIFF. As a writer-producer-director she has created the west coast Canadian surfing history film 49 Degrees. She was the only woman out of ten winners in the FoxFUEL Experiment in Los Angeles and created Skategirl, which follows the parallel journeys of professional women skateboarders from the 70s through 2000s. Her feature documentary Bloodied But Unbowed chronicles the life and death of the first Vancouver punk scene of the late 1970s. The film opened at the mid-festival presentation at DOXA and has won accolades in Tokyo and Berlin. She recently worked as a producer and writer on PUNK, for broadcast on EPIX and through Bell Media Networks. Her broadcast relationships include CBC, CTV, Knowledge, Super Channel, SCN,TV Ontario and US network television.

Tabata does community-based film & digital media work for many small organizations. The 2016 documentary, The Survivors Totem Pole Project – is led by voices of survival and resilience in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver – in particular Haida carver and hereditary chief-in-waiting Bernie “Skundaal” Williams. The two women are working on another project Through Survivors Eyes funded through the Vancouver Moving Theatrea and the BC Arts Council.

Susanne sat on the Community Council and the Steering Committee of the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective, produced out of the University of Victoria and will lead the documentary unit of Past Wrongs Future Choices. In the summer of 2020, Tabata produced the Powell Street Festival Telethon as part of its Covid Pivot. Through funding from Digital Museums of Canada, together with the National Nikkei Museum, she was the creative lead on 2021 completed website production ‘Writing Wrongs: Japanese Canadian Letters of Protest from the 1940s’. Susanne has a background as an instructional designer and has conducted over 300 interviews, which advance the discussion of social justice. She is a part-time instructor in Media Arts and includes mentorship as part of her artistic practice.

As Chair of Arts for the NAJC, she lead both the creation of the on-line Japanese Canadian Artistis Directory and co-chaired the GEI Symposium 2022.

Tabata led BC Redress negotiations, and is currently the President of the Japanese Canadian Legacies Society which is the oversight Board to implement a $100M set of legacy initiatives proposed to the BC Government to right the historical wrongs of the past.

In summer 2022, Susanne was adopted by the St’langng Laanaas/Jaanaas clan of the Haida nation, and was given the name Si K’ajaang Jaad. It is with this responsibility that her work acknowledges the ongoing struggles of indigenous peoples in Canada.