Nanking

Oscar's Documentary Shortlist

COUNTRY: U.S.

DIRECTORS: Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman

ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS: Both directors won doc short trophies in 2004 for “Twin Towers”; Guttentag previously won for “You Don’t Have to Die” (1989 short), and co-created and produced NBC’s “Law & Order: Crime and Punishment.” Sturman is also a vet TV and doc producer; “Nanking” is his directorial debut.

FINANCING: Budget of approximately $2 million financed by producer Ted Leonsis (AOL vice chairman).

THEME: A vivid exposition of the Japanese occupation and pillage of Nanking, China. Dramatizing the 70-year old tragedy: archival footage, present-day interviews with Chinese survivors and former Japanese soldiers as well as actors reading letters and diaries of the Westerners who created a safety zone that sheltered more than 200,000 Chinese.

VARIETY REVIEW SAYS: “The personalities it brings to light — many of whom were forced to remain silent about what they’d seen after returning to their homelands — are worthy of widespread exposure.”

DISTRIBUTION STATUS: Screening at the Film Forum in New York; Los Angeles and San Francisco in January followed by national rollout via ThinkFilm. One of 20 U.S. films that premiered in China this year; $1.5 million gross to date. Skedded for HBO telecast in 2008.

ON THE MAKING OF THE FILM: Because there was limited archival footage available, the filmmakers took an innovative approach and filmed staged readings by actors (among them Woody Harrelson and Mariel Hemingway) of the participants’ “true words.” “We wanted to create more than a historic look back,” Sturman says. “Our hope was to bring the audience into the moment by speaking the words of the people involved, bringing these people back to life in a way that had dynamism and energy, bringing viewers in to experience the events in a more direct way.”

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