An award-winning documentary which shows the massive scale of atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers when they invaded Nanking was so vivid that it left members of the audience sobbing uncontrollably when it was shown at a New York film festival here Thursday.
The screening of the documentary, entitled Nanking, at the Tribeca Film Festival comes in the 70th anniversary year of the invasion.
While some members of the audience shed their tears silently in the theater, others sobbed out loud.
Speaking after the film, one member of the audience said, "Is is really depressing to watch that chapter of history. Now I think I can partially understand why Chinese American author Iris Chang took her own life after finishing her book The Rape of Nanking."
Nanking tells the story of the Japanese invasion of Nanking, China, in the early days of World War II. As part of a campaign to conquer all of China, the Japanese subjected Nanking - which was then China's capital - to months of aerial bombardment, and when it fell, the Japanese army engaged in murder and rape on a horrific scale.
In the midst of the rampage, a small group of Westerners banded together to establish a safety zone where over 200,000 Chinese found refuge. Unarmed, these missionaries, university professors, doctors, and businessmen - including a German member of the Nazi party - bore witness to the events, while risking their own lives to protect civilians from the slaughter.
The story is told through deeply moving interviews with Chinese survivors, chilling archival footage and photos of the events, and testimonies of former Japanese soldiers.
Nanking became familiar to the film's producer, Ted Leonsis, who is also vice-chairman of AOL, in early 2005 when he stumbled across Iris Chang's obituary. It inspired him to read her book, which shocked him so much that he decided the story had to be told on screen.
In summer 2005, Leonsis hired the Academy-Award-winning writer/ director team of Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman to helm his project.
To find the materials that would bring the story of Nanking to life, Guttentag, Sturman and their production team collected thousands of pages of letters, journals and diaries for three months by trawling original sources and archives in the United States, Europe and Asia.
In China, they met historians, documentarians, and scholars who told them where to look for the best photographs and footage in China and across the world.
Another essential stage of pre-production was finding Chinese survivors to take part in the film. In December 2005, co-producer Violet Du Feng traveled to Nanjing, Nanking's present day name, to meet more than 30 survivors. When Leonsis, Guttentag and Sturman, and the rest of the production team arrived in China, they spent three weeks interviewing 22 survivors in the cities of Nanjing, Suzhou and Shanghai.
Filming in Japan was more difficult because the subject of Nanking is highly controversial. It was challenging to find former Japanese soldiers willing to talk about their experiences in Nanking. The Japanese soldiers who participated in the film were found through members of the Japanese peace movement.
Upon returning from Asia, the Nanking production team began the final piece of filming - the staged reading with actors. Filming took place in Los Angeles in August 2006. Every word of dialogue in the reading was written by those who lived through Nanking, with the exception of the stage manager, who reads from contemporary newsreels and newspaper reports.
Their efforts were not in vain. In January 2007, the documentary Nanking debuted at Sundance Film Festival where it received the Editing Award. In April, it won the Humanitarian Award for Best Documentary at Hong Kong International Film Festival.
Nanking is a testament to the courage and conviction of individuals who were determined to act in the face of evil and a powerful tribute to the resilience of the Chinese people -- a gripping account of light in the darkest of times, said the documentary's notes released by ThinkFilm, the distributor.
To this day, some ultra-conservatives in Japan continue to deny or minimize the scale of the Nanking massacre and pay annual pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine where 14 Japanese class A war criminals are enshrined.
In the run up to December 2007, the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Nanking, the Chinese and Japanese governments have convened a joint committee of historians in an attempt to agree upon a common version of the history of the Sino-Japanese conflict, including what happened in Nanking.
"It is time to repent. Denial will only lead to more history mistakes," said another member of the audience.