The USC Shoah Foundation’s documentary on the 1938 Nanjing Massacre, “A Girl and the Picture,” was nominated for best short film by the International Documentary Association in late October.
Directed and produced by Academy Award winner Vanessa Roth and Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith, the film follows the life of Xia Shuqin, an 89-year-old survivor, as she describes her story facing the Nanjing Massacre.
“‘The Girl and The Picture’ is about the importance of bearing witness,” Smith said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “By focusing on Madame Xia’s relationship with her granddaughter and great grandson, the film underscores the importance of transferring the memory of an atrocity from one generation to another. The film binds their families across cultures and continents and highlights their shared commitment to preserving the memory of what happened.”
The film was created over the course of six months and screened at various events, including Tribeca and American Documentary film festivals. The creators hope that its message will impact international audiences, as they made many edits to the film to ensure its cultural legitimacy and accuracy, according to Roth.
“I wanted to make sure that the domestic and international audience felt I was respecting and telling an authentic story,” Roth said. “I [didn’t] want it to feel disingenuous, I want to make sure that they feel proud about the story that they shared with me.”
The story is special because it focuses on the specifics of a few characters, Roth said. Instead of integrating Madame Xia’s story into a broader history, Roth felt that the film would be more effective if it related to audiences through an authentic human experience.
“My interest in [the film] was in making sure we made a film that was very human and personal to them,” she said. “We wanted to make a film through the lens of individual people … and translate that to being a story about the bigger moments in history.”
The international award recognizes world-class non-fiction films and documentaries, and each nominated film expands on the compassion and interconnectedness of the human experience, according to the IDA’s mission statement.
“The nomination is a welcome endorsement of our commitment to ensuring that the Nanjing Massacre doesn’t fade from collective memory, or become whitewashed by revisionist narratives,” Rob Kuznia, the Shoah Foundation’s external relations coordinator, said in an email to the Daily Trojan.
However, according to Smith, the award does more than just recognize the efforts of the team. It’s also a sign that the international documentary society deemed it an important cultural resource and is encouraging the USC Shoah Foundation to continue its efforts in historical preservation.
“We aren’t in this for awards,” Smith said. “We play the long game, and plan to preserve and share the personal stories of Madame Xia and other survivors of the Nanjing Massacre — be it via this film, or through their testimonies — in perpetuity, no matter what.”
The award for best short film will be announced Dec. 8.