Unbroken screening packs Del Amo multiplex

Cynthia Zamperini, Debbie Hays, Mayor Patrick Furey and Matthew Baer introduce "Unbroken" to a packed house at Torrance's AMC Del Amo 20 on Tuesday, Dec 16.

Cynthia Zamperini, Debbie Hays, Mayor Patrick Furey and Matthew Baer introduce “Unbroken” to a packed house at Torrance’s AMC Del Amo 20 on Tuesday, Dec 16.

Release of Louis Zamperini biopic is “extremely rewarding” for Torrance Tornado’s family and home

 

Matthew Baer stood at the front of a packed theater beside Torrance Mayor Pat Furey, siblings Luke and Cynthia Zamperini, patiently waiting his turn to speak as Furey warmed up the crowd. In a few minutes, he was handed the microphone, looked out to the crowd and spoke.

“I’ve waited 17 years to say this: Hello Torrance!”

There’s no exaggeration to that: a film producer by trade, Baer had been working since 1998 to bring the life of Torrance’s Louis Zamperini to the silver screen, and after numerous rewrites and attempts to find a director, his vision had come to life.

Nearly 600 people filled two theaters at the AMC Del Amo 20 Theatre in Torrance on Dec. 16, to watch a pre-release screening of “Unbroken,” a dramatic retelling of Zamperini’s life: his Olympic-level athletic ascension, his survival of a World War II rescue mission gone awry, the torture doled out by his Japanese captors, and his eventual release and joyous return to the U.S. The film ends, as many biopics do, recapping the last years of Zamperini’s life: his turn to a life of religious faith, forgiveness for his captors and the famous clip of Zamperini carrying the Olympic torch in Japan preceding the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan.

The audience for the preview screening of "Unbroken" sits back to take in a post-show Q&A session led by producer Matthew Baer and siblings Luke and Cynthia Zamperini.

The audience for the preview screening of “Unbroken” sits back to take in a post-show Q&A session led by producer Matthew Baer and siblings Luke and Cynthia Zamperini.

As the last stragglers trickled into the 7 and 7:15 p.m. screenings (among them Congressman-elect Ted Lieu and his family), members of the city council stood in the lobby, a symbol of the city’s full support for the film.

After a few remarks from Baer and the Zamperini children, who reiterated their father’s pride in his hometown and praised director Angelina Jolie’s attention to historical detail (“our father took Angelina aside to give notes,” they said), the film began rolling.

Two hours later, applause rained down as a final image of Zamperini, who died this year at age 97, faded away. As the credits rolled behind them, Baer and the Zamperin siblings held a short Q&A session, fielding questions on topics ranging from editing and location to Zamperini’s hardest days during his capture and whether or not he enjoyed Japanese food after he returned.

Afterward, Cynthia Zamperini stood in the hallway, overjoyed — and just a bit relieved.

“It’s beyond extremely rewarding for us,” she said. “It’s been a strange year, having lost our father and having this magnificent film come to fruition.”

“Having these appearances, and speaking about our father so much has eased our pain quite a bit. We’re meeting so many people whose lives were changed by our father’s story. It’s marvelous, we couldn’t be happier,” she said.

The process was an emotional ordeal for her, she said; during the first few screenings, she said, she would find herself in tears during screenings, most often at the film’s end. “The torture stuff was very hard [to watch], because you’re watching a movie and all of a sudden, you’re realizing that really happened to my father,” she said, noting that the film’s sequences were, earlier in the process, more brutal: the violence and depictions of suffering Zamperini and his fellow captives endured were toned down to ensure the film kept a PG-13 rating.

Audience members leaving the preview screening of Unbroken stop to admire photos following the story of Zamperini's life

Audience members leaving the preview screening of Unbroken stop to admire photos following the story of Zamperini’s life

“I could never figure out why it never was a movie before,” Luke Zamperini said. Acknowledged by his sister as the authority on their father’s history, Zamperini only wished that the film could have covered even more of Louis’s story. According to Luke, Louis’s repatriation was an ordeal in itself: as he went unnamed in Japan’s roster of prisoners, the bureaucracy of the U.S. military kept Louis from getting food and aid, despite the protests of his fellow POWs; it was only after Zamperini’s story got traction state-side that he got his recognition. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll see an 9-hour documentary into his life eventually,” he said.

For the Zamperini children, this screening draws closer to the end of a long year memorializing their father, though the road won’t be truly complete until January 1, when they will represent him in the 2015 Tournament of Roses parade. Louis Zamperini was named the parade’s Grand Marshall, and as a result of his passing, his children will take his place.

“It was a great honor for him, he was very excited to do it. But when he entered the hospital,” Cynthia Zamperini said, “he started saying ‘Boy,‘it’s a long time ’til the film comes out,’ and ‘It’s a long time ’til the Rose Parade.’” Realizing the end was near, she contacted the Tournament of Roses leadership, telling them to consider a contingency. “We don’t want anybody else,” they told her. “If he can’t make it, we want you, the family, to sit in.”

“I hope for the City of Torrance that this is important for them,” Cynthia said. “He loved his hometown with all his heart, he spent as much time here as he could, he was very proud of having the airfield named after him, and I hope that the city would be proud that he remained loyal and true. I hope the city would hold true what everyone who sees the film would: That you don’t give up, you persevere, you believe in yourself, and you practice forgiveness.”

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Written by: Kevin Cody

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