top of page

Screen Asia: Above the Drowning Sea

Above the Drowning Sea (2017)



Fri 3 Nov 2017

7:00pm - 8:30pm

1370 Southmore Blvd
Houston, TX 77004


Click for Directions

 Add to Google Calendar

$5 Members, $10 Nonmembers

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, no other country would open its doors to the refugees. Their lives at stake, the refugees desperately looked for a way out from what would become the Holocaust. Then, a door opened on the east 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.

Jewish refugees and the Chinese residents of Shanghai who helped them survive in China recount their experiences, terrors, and deprivations as well as the remarkable friendships forged across cultures, friendships that survive to this day. Shot in six countries over four continents, Above the Drowning Sea takes you on an inspiring and emotional journey across time and across the world. Truly a story that could have been ripped from today’s headlines, the film vividly celebrates the every-day heroism and humanity of ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances.

Following the film screening, join a conversation with writer-director René Balcer and co-executive producer Carolyn Hsu-Balcer.


About the Filmmakers

René Balcer (Writer-Director) is well known as the showrunner, head writer, and executive producer of the iconic television series Law & Order, and as the co-creator and showrunner of its hit spin-off series Law & Order Criminal Intent. He is currently in production on Law & Order True Crime — The Menendez Murders, an eight-part limited series for NBC starring Edie Falco. He has won an Emmy, the Peabody Award, a Writers Guild of America Award, and four Edgar Awards for his television work.

René has also written and produced award-winning documentaries on art and China, and has just completed Above The Drowning Sea, a documentary about Jewish refugees in China. Additionally, his writing on social issues has been recognized with awards from Planned Parenthood, the Alliance for Justice, the American Bar Association, and other organizations.

Nicola Zavaglia (Writer-Director) was born in Calabria, Italy, and grew up in Montreal’s East End. He studied film at Loyola College Communication Arts and after graduating, he went on to study film in Rome. Upon returning to Montreal, Zavaglia worked as a travelling 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. 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. Zavaglia is presently working on The Patient Labyrinth, a film essay on the art of the portrait in painting, and on The Science of Farewells, a road trip through Calabria with actor Nick Mancuso.

Carolyn Hsu-Balcer (Co-Executive Producer) is a designer, philanthropist, and art collector based in Los Angeles and New York. As a philanthropist, she has worked to foster Sino-American understanding through education and culture. Her interest in cross-cultural exchanges has led her to organize groundbreaking exhibits of Chinese art including Xu Bing Tobacco Project Virginia (VMFA, 2011), Light Before Dawn (Asia Society Hong Kong, 2013), Blooming in the Shadows (China Institute NY, 2011), Ming Cho Lee: A Retrospective (Ningbo Museum, 2011), and Oil and Water: Re-Interpreting Ink (MOCA NY, 2014).

She 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.

The China Series at Asia Society Texas Center is presented by East West Bank. Major support for Performing Arts and Culture programs comes from Nancy C. Allen, Ellen Gritz and Milton Rosenau, the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, and the Anchorage Foundation. Generous funding also provided by AARP, The Clayton Fund, Miller Outdoor Theatre, New England Foundation for the Arts, and through contributions from the Friends of Asia Society, a premier group of individuals and organizations committed to bringing exceptional programming and exhibitions to Asia Society Texas Center.

bottom of page