Above the Drowning Sea [SOLD OUT]


Film and Discussion

NEW YORK, September 28, 2017 — Following a screening of their film Above the Drowning Sea, director René Balcer and producer Carolyn Hsu-Balcer sit down for a Q&A with Asia Society Museum Director Boon Hui Tan. Above the Drowning Sea tells the story of European Jews who, before the onset of World War 2, escaped Nazism by immigrating to China. (24 min., 14 sec.)

Dirs. Nicola Zavaglia and René Balcer. USA. 2017. 88 min.

Above the Drowning Sea - Trailer from Rene Balcer on Vimeo.

Above the Drowning Sea tells the story of the dramatic escape of European Jews from Nazi-controlled Europe to Shanghai on the eve of World War II. As Hitler’s forces sought to expel the Jews from Europe, the refugees desperately looked for a way out from what would become the Holocaust. Many countries denied access to them, until a door opened on the eastern coast of far-away China, in Shanghai, an open city itself in chaos from foreign invasion and civil war.

But getting there required a “golden” document to get out of Nazi Europe — a visa from China. Above the Drowning Sea recounts the courageous intervention of Ho Feng Shan, the Chinese Consul in Vienna, who defied his own government and braved the Gestapo to issue visas to the refugees. The Jewish refugees and the Chinese residents of Shanghai who helped them survive recount their experiences, terrors, and deprivations, as well as the remarkable friendships forged across cultures that survive to this day.


上海餘生 - 预告片 - Above the Drowning Sea - Trailer - Chinese from rene balcer on Vimeo.

Shot in six countries over four continents, Above the Drowning Sea is an inspiring and emotional journey through time and around the world. With a story that could be torn from today’s headlines, the film vividly celebrates the every-day heroism and humanity of ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances.

After the film screening, join a conversation with the filmmakers.  

René Balcer, Writer-Director

René Balcer is well known as the showrunner, head writer, and executive producer of the iconic television series Law & Order, and as the cocreator and showrunner of its hit spin-off series Law & Order: Criminal Intent. In addition, he created the international hit series Jo starring Jean Reno. He has received an Emmy, a Peabody Award, a Writers Guild of America Award, and four Edgar Awards for his television work. Balcer has also written and produced award-winning documentaries on art and China. Earlier in his career, he was a front-line cameraman during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and a journalist in Montréal.

His writing on social issues has been recognized with awards from Planned Parenthood, Alliance for Justice, the American Bar Association, and other organizations. Balcer has lectured widely about writing, art, and the duties of artists in free societies, notably at Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, the Sorbonne (Paris), the Central Academy of Fine Art (Beijing), and the Journalists Club (Moscow).

Nicola Zavaglia, Writer-Director

Born in Calabria, Italy, Nicola Zavaglia grew up in Montreal’s East End. He studied film at Loyola College Communication Arts. After graduating, he went on to study film in Rome where he worked as an assistant to filmmakers Silvano Agosti and Marco Bellocchio, and apprenticed with directors Marco Ferreri (La Grande Bouffe) and Giuliano Montaldo (Sacco and Vanzetti), and with writer Cesare Zavattini (The Bicycle Thief). Upon returning to Montreal, Zavaglia worked as a traveling film teacher in Quebec’s northern region of Abitibi, and as a director with Tele-Quebec and the National Film Board of Canada. Zavaglia has also taught film production, editing, and screenwriting at Concordia University.

His first documentary film, A Poet in the Family (1979), tells the story of poet Vincenzo Albanese and the Italian immigrant community in Quebec. This was followed by The Blinding Light (1981), a feature documentary on religion and war shot in Lebanon. Among his films produced for the NFB are L’Espoir Violent (A Violent Hope) and Mediterraneo Sempre. Zavaglia recently founded his own company; Time & Rhythm Cinema’s first production, The Journey to Ithaca, reflects on the vital role a good teacher plays in one’s life journey through a series of visits with old school friends and professors. Zavaglia is presently working on The Patient Labyrinth, a film essay on the art of the portrait in painting, and The Science of Farewells, a road trip through Calabria with actor Nick Mancuso.

Carolyn Hsu-Balcer, Co-Executive Producer

Carolyn Hsu-Balcer is a designer, philanthropist, and art collector based in Los Angeles and New York. She is a past trustee of the China Institute in New York, an organization founded in 1926 by her great grand-uncle, the educator Kuo Ping Wen, among others. She has organized seminars on Education in China, notably at Columbia Teachers College in 2014. She also has organized and supported educational seminars and scholarships at Shanghai Finance and Economics University, Southeast Nanjing University, and its Taiwan offshoot Central University. Her interest in cross-cultural exchanges has led her to organize ground-breaking exhibitions of Chinese art including Xu Bing Tobacco Project Virginia (2011, VMFA), Light Before Dawn (2013, Asia Society Hong Kong Center), Blooming in the Shadows (2011, China Institute, NY), Ming Cho Lee: A Retrospective (2011, Ningbo Museum), and Oil and Water: Re-Interpreting Ink (2014, MOCA, NY).

Hsu-Balcer has produced award-winning documentaries on Chinese art, including The No Name Painting Association and Xu Bing Tobacco Project Virginia. In publishing, she has sponsored the publication of a 13-volume catalogue of the works of the Wuming group of Chinese artists, and the publication of Ai Wei Wei: New York Photographs 1983–1993.

Hsu-Balcer is currently a member of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Foundation Board of Directors, a member of the Board of Overseers at the MFA Boston, and an honorary trustee of the Ningbo Museum (China). As a trustee of the Ningbo Museum, Hsu-Balcer has forged ties with U.S. art and cultural institutions to bring curatorial training to the Ningbo Museum. Hsu-Balcer and her husband have assembled important collections of Chinese contemporary art, Japanese Shin-Hanga, and Inuit art. Works from the collections have been shown in museums around the world, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Aldrich Museum; Wellin Museum; Asia Society Hong Kong Center; and the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

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Event Details

Thu 28 Sep 2017
6:30 - 8 p.m.

725 Park Avenue at 70th Street, New York City

Buy Tickets
$8 Members; $10 Students/Seniors; $12 Non-members
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