According to co-director Bill Spahic, this storytelling approach would not only make the documentary unique among the films about the Massacre coming out as its 70th anniversary draws near, but also would further personalize the tragedy.
"These events will not be third-person, cool narrative over archival footage, but will have first-person real impact on Iris Chang and, through her, the audience," he says.
Chinese-American writer Iris Chang
The world premiere of the $1.5 million film, a joint project of Toronto-based Real to Reel Productions and the Canada Association for the Learning and Preserving of the History of WWII in Asia (ALPHA), begins today in Toronto, Canada. The docudrama would then be broadcast on national TV in North America and Asia. It is scheduled to premiere in China at the reopening of the Memorial Hall of the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre on December 13, the 70th anniversary of the invasion.
"People never learn about this history in North America," vice-chairperson of Canada ALPHA Liu Meiling says. "Making this film is another educational tool."
The film melds historical footage, excerpts from Chang's TV appearances and speeches, dramatic reenactments and interviews with Japanese soldiers and nine victims, including Xia Shuqin, the last remaining survivor Chang interviewed.
"It was very emotional, because Xia knew Iris and knew her so well," says Liu, who translated during the interview. "She became very emotional when talking about Iris' death. When she'd talk about her, she'd start crying. She kept saying: 'She was such a sweet person; she was such a good person'."
Liu says she often struggled to maintain composure in her role as a translator during the interviews. There were several times during the filming when crewmembers embraced one another and wept together, Liu says.
"Back at the hotel, I had trouble shaking off the emotion," she says. "But I'd tell myself that what we were doing was bringing a ray of hope to the world."
It was particularly sorrowful for Chang's parents - whose own parents narrowly escaped the Massacre - who gave direct input in the filmmaking and flew to Nanjing to give their testimonies on film.
"It's very painful for my husband and me to go through this again, to go through the interviews," Iris' mother Yingying Chang told China Daily. "The pain will never go away. People say time heals all wounds, but I don't think so."
Since Iris' passing, her parents have "taken up her torch". They say it's their way of dealing with their daughter's untimely death.
"This is the sacrifice on our part, and I think it's worth it," Yingying Chang says. "I take it as a business. I think Iris would be happy to see we still continue to carry on her work."