Cultural and EducationalWeekly Series

In Memoriam | Noel “Sonny” Izon

It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of Noel “Sonny” Izon, age 76, in Milan Italy, a place he loved to visit. His wife, Kathryn, and family members were with him in the hospital where he received care after a massive heart attack. Sonny was a valued partner of the US-Philippines Society for over a decade.

Sonny Izon was a Filipino American documentary film maker and producer who garnered international awards for a documentary film, “An Open Door: Holocaust Haven in the Philippines,” set at a time when European Jews sought refuge from Nazi persecution. Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon (1935-1944) welcomed Jewish refugees to the Philippines and provided sanctuary to 1,305 people prior to the outbreak of WWII. Collaborating with U.S. High Commissioner Paul V. McNutt and Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, President Quezon overcame bureaucratic hurdles to arrange visas. Izon described the bold rescue operation as demonstrating “a perfect partnership of like-minded individuals who shared humanitarian and democratic values.” Through his films, Sonny captured the Filipino perspective during WWII, worked relentlessly to shed light on a previously unknown episode about the Philippines open door policy, and spoke on broader issues of human rights, refugees and immigration. “Open Door” was co-produced with author Sharon Delmendo, and is the third in his trilogy of forgotten WWII stories. His other films were “Choc’late Soldiers from the USA” and “An Untold Triumph: The Story of the 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments U.S. Army.”

The US-Philippines Society has supported and helped promote the Open Door film and its expanded version that was released at the May 2018 Asian Pacific American Film Festival in Washington DC, and previewed in January 2020 in New York at the UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Sonny was an active member of the Filipino American community in Washington DC-Virginia-Maryland since the 1970s. He spent his early years researching WWII at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, near his home. He was involved in projects advocating for minority communities and Asians, particularly Filipino Americans whose stories had yet to reach the mainstream American media. He traveled across four continents promoting “An Open Door” and educated a wider audience about refugee lives, connecting with descendants who found a new and welcome home in the Philippines.

Born in Tondo, Manila on December 16, 1946, just as the Philippines attained full independence, Sonny Izon later immigrated to the United States in 1967. He graduated with honors from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in English Literature. His career in creative and broadcast design and production encompassed more than 250 international films and videos, and 100 nationally televised programs produced mainly for PBS and National Geographic Television. He was recognized as one of the 100 most Influential Filipino Americans by TOFA in 2020. His film “Open Door” was awarded Best Picture at the Sochi International Film Festival in February 2018, and received Platinum Awards at the Java International Film Festival in March 2018. The film was also nominated for Best Documentary or Feature Film at festivals in Spain, Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Kathryn and members of the family. Details for a memorial service have yet to be announced.

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