“Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began” Previews at New York Film Academy (NYFA)


This is a big week for me, and for a group of instructors, here at the New York Film Academy (NYFA). On Wednesday, my latest documentary will make it’s US television premiere. And it could never have been made without the support of NYFA, and my fellow faculty members.

Distributed by American Public Television, Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began will debut on WLIW/21 in New York on Wednesday, November 7 at 10pm. The following evening, November 8, the program will air on NJTV at 9pm and will be seen by viewers in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. (A schedule for key US markets can be found below.) Eventually we anticipate 200+ channels airing the program. 

Following a six-month exclusive “window” for Public Television distribution, the documentary will become available on popular streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and iTunes.

Shanghai 1937

Shanghai 1937

World War II started in 1937? In China?

Those are the provocative questions behind the new Public Television documentary Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began. While largely forgotten outside of China, the Battle of Shanghai in 1937 marked the first time the military forces of Imperial Japan came up against effective, ongoing resistance. The first American civilians killed in what would become World War II, as well as the first American serviceman, died in Shanghai during August 1937.

In Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began, a group of internationally recognized historians and scholars describe how the events that took place in Shanghai pulled the world inevitably towards war, while at the same time instilling in the Chinese people a true sense of nationhood. The results of that transformation continue to be felt today. In fact, to understand contemporary Chinese attitudes and policies, you have to look to its past.

Still, at its heart, this is the story of shattered lives and enduring dreams. That story is told in part by Liliane Willens, who at 92 years old is one of the few witnesses to these events still alive. She and her family were members of a community of stateless Russian Jews. Deemed “citizens of nowhere,” they were welcome to live in Shanghai, but could never leave.

Shanghai’s large expat community controlled the city’s economy, living lives of privilege. War destroyed their world, and set the stage for the China of today. Liliane would eventually be admitted to the United States in 1951, and went on to teach at prestigious American colleges and universities. Today she is a lecturer and author, living in Washington, D.C.

Production of Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began spanned three years and three continents. It incorporates little-seen footage located in film libraries around the world, as well as original interviews and scenic footage shot specifically for this documentary. Contributors include two of the leading Chinese experts on this subject: Su Zhiliang, Ph.D. of Shanghai Normal University and Ma Zhendu, Director of the Second Historical Archives of China, as well as Hans van de Ven, Ph.D. of the University of Cambridge in England, American military historian Edward Drea, Ph.D., and Danish historian and author Peter Harmsen.

Teacher’s Notes written by Syd Golston, a past president of the National Council for the Social Studies, can be downloaded free of charge. Included in these materials are poems written by Chinese American author Wing Tek Lum. The Teacher’s Notes are at Shanghai1937.tv, where additional information about the program is also available along with a trailer.

I am the Producer/Director of Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began. Previously I developed and produced programming for PBS, CBS, ABC, HBO and Discovery. I’ve been telling stories about China for more than 25 years. My four-part documentary series tied to the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beyond Beijing, was seen in 43 countries by 250+ million viewers. I became Chair of the Broadcast Journalism school at the New York Film Academy in 2013.

Co-Producer/Editor Evgenia Vlasova was the anchor and co-producer of an award-winning morning show in her native Russia. Born in the Russian Far East, she is no stranger to China. She too is a faculty member in the Broadcast Journalism department at the New York Film Academy.

Digital Producer Theresa Loong traces her family heritage back to southern China. She is a multimedia producer and director based in New York.

Associate Producer Nancy Hanzhang Shen previously worked in admissions and social media at NYFA. She is now a freelance video editor. NYFA audio instructor Dionysius Vlachos was the Supervising Sound Editor, NYFA editing instructor Lexi Phillips was the Colorist, and NYFA acting instructor Lea Tolub Brandenburg narrated key passages. Wenting Wu was the Graphic Designer. (That is her wonderful work that you see in the trailer, and the opening of the program.)

Last Thursday we had a preview screening at NYFA, with our own version of a red carpet. Only at this event, it was the production personnel who took center stage.

Shanghai 1937

L to R: Bill Einreinhofer, Theresa Loong, Nancy Hanzhang Shen, Evgenia Vlasova


Shanghai 1937

L to R: Nancy Hanzhang Shen, Wenting Wu, Evgenia Vlasova, Bill Einreinhofer, Dee Vlachos


(Partial list, all times are local. Some stations will air the program more than once.)

New York
WLIW Wednesday 11/7/18 @ 10p
WNJB (NJTV) Thursday 11/8/18 @ 9p
WNJN (NJTV) Thursday 11/8/18 @ 9p

Los Angeles
KLCS Tuesday 11/13/18 @ 9p
KCET Tuesday 11/13/18 @ 8p

WTTW Sunday 11/11/18 @ 5p

WNJS (NJTV) Thursday 11/8/18 @ 9p
WNJT (NJTV) Thursday 11/8/18 @ 9p

San Francisco
KQED Sunday 11/11/18 @ 7p
KRCB Sunday 11/18/18 @ 10p

KCTS Monday 11/12/18 @ 1p (Veterans Day programming)

WLRN Monday 11/12/18 @ 8p

KRMA Tuesday 11/20/18 @ 10p

WEFS Sunday 11/11/18 @ 9p

WNSC Sunday 11/11/18 @ 2p

WNPT Thursday 11/8/18 @ 11p

Salt Lake City
KUEN Wednesday 11/14/18 @ 9p

Kansas City
KCPT Sunday 11/11/18 @ 2p

WCET Tuesday 12/4/18 @ 8p

WNEH Sunday 11/11/18 @ 2p

KLRU Thursday 11/8/18 @ 9p

KENW Friday 11/9/18 @ 9p

WKMJ Sunday 11/11/18 @10p

Grand Rapids
WGVK Sunday 11/11/18 @ 3p