On Dec 8, 1994, a fire broke out in the Friendship Theatre in Karamay, Xinjiang Province, which caused the death of 323 people, including 288 school children between the ages of 6 and 14. Many teachers were killed while trying to protect and evacuate their students from the building, which lacked adequate safety features.
A show was being organised at the time for a number of local government officials. All of the government officials participating in the event managed to escape and survived. Since then, all commemorative activities associated with the incident have been banned.
During the fire, the students were ordered not to move and to allow the visiting government officials to escape first. All the government officials sitting in the front row near the origin of the fire escaped and only a few of them suffered minor injuries.
However, 288 children died. Nonetheless, in the wake of the disaster, most of the perpetrators still remain at large. A court convicted 13 people, but only 4 were senior officials. They were convicted of dereliction of duty and sentenced up to five years in prison.
Karamay is a 6-hour-long documentary film produced by Jiangsu director Xu Xin. The documentary is the culmination of three years spent visiting over 60 families and the documentary tells the story of the families of 13 victims. It was honoured by the iSunTV Chinese Documentary Awards for Best Investigative Documentary on Dec 7, 2012. The film is still banned in China.
Watch Karamay part one below:
Xu Xin fully understood the dangers of shooting a documentary about the incident. A reporter from Hong Kong TV station Phoenix TV was deported and an American producer had also been deported for making a documentary about the incident. But this only served to strengthen Xu Xin’s determination to finish the documentary.
Xu Xin said he was motivated to produce the Karamay documentary because he was a school teacher at the time of the incident. He wanted to delve deeper into the story behind the incident and showed up at the cemetery to meet the victims’ parents on Dec 8, 2007.
Watch Karamay part two below:
“Many families bravely faced the camera despite concerns for their own safety. I am very grateful to these families. If it were not for their courage, this documentary would not exist.
“While facing our camera, they were kind of nervous. No one thought I would actually have the courage to make the documentary. Now that the documentary is finished, I really want to share it so that the truth can be exposed.”