‘Nanking’ reaches 2 million in China | ParkRecord.com

‘Nanking’ reaches 2 million in China

ANNA BLOOM, of the Record staff

When pirated copies of a film can be bought outside Shanghai subway stations less than a year after its premiere, it’s a good indication that telling the story was worth the effort.

"Nanking" premiered and won the editing prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Ten months later, it has achieved the status of the top-grossing documentary in China’s history. Theaters are discounting tickets to entice the public to see the film and, by the time "Nanking" screens tonight in the Santy Auditorium, nearly 2 million people in China will have seen the film.

"Nanking" exposes the horrific details of the winter of 1937, when Japanese soldiers brutally invaded Nanking, China, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians within weeks. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East reports that during the first month and a half, the town sustained approximately 20,000 cases of rape and 200,000 deaths.

The film weaves together first-person testimonials from children that massacre weaving archival images and a staged reading of Westerners’ letters and diaries from the period.

In the 1930s, Nanking was the capital of the country, with an abundant population of foreigners working at businesses, hospitals, and schools. Of those told to evacuate "Nanking" before the six-week invasion, 22 Americans and Europeans remained to help protect citizens. They set up a "Safety Zone" that saved about 200,000 people.

"Nanking" executive producer Katie Strand, who will be fielding a Q and A session following tonight’s show, says discovering these heroic stories were her favorite surprises during her research.

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"I think with this story I’m most drawn to the hopeful side of things and the fact that the foreigners in the city were able to save so many lives," she told The Park Record. "They were unarmed and they weren’t military, but by virtue of being a foreigner and standing up to the soldiers, they could help many civilians.

"Knowing that so much can be done if you’re determined and have a good heart and that it doesn’t take tons of manpower or weapons it means that its possible for anyone to make a difference and save lives."

December marks the 70th anniversary of "The Rape of Nanking," but Strand admits, she was not taught about the story in history class. According to the documentary’s Web site, http://www.nankinghthefilm.com, many Japanese know very little about the atrocities committed by their country. "Nanking remains a divisive issue," says the site. "Many Japanese believe stories of atrocities in Nanking are exaggerations and lies. Soon after producer Ted Leonsis decided to create a documentary about Nanking, mass protests broke out in China over Japanese approval of textbooks that called the Nanking massacre an ‘incident.’"

Strand reflects that while receiving accolades at the Sundance Film Festival "was a coup," what has been rewarding in showing the film at the festival has been the guarantee that the story would reach people.

"So much of what happened in Europe during World War II is taught in Western schools, but what is taught in China is really not a part of our curriculum," she says. "And really, the film is not about [demonizing] the Japanese … I think the thing that resonates for most people is that in times of war people can do really horrible things to each other, and perhaps by telling this story, history won’t repeat itself."

‘Nanking’

What: a screening of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival Editing Award-winning documentary "Nanking," about the 1937-8 massacre of a Chinese town by Japanese forces. Part of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Series. A Q and A with producer Katie Strand will follow.

Where: The Santy Auditorium at 1255 Park Ave.

When: 7 p.m.

How much: Free.