New London - The movie that Michael King has just made is about, to borrow a phrase from the film, "the mystery of goodness."
The documentary "The Rescuers" explores how a dozen diplomats helped save tens of thousands of Jews during World War II.
When the 1971 New London High School alum returned to his alma mater Friday, King showed "The Rescuers" to students - in what was the movie's first public screening - and spoke about the nature of heroism.
He said that these diplomats did things others wouldn't, that they "risked their lives, their families, their careers, who went against their government to save thousands of lives."
It may be history, but it's still a potent and relevant topic. King said there is such divisiveness in the world today that it's particularly timely to have "a call to action to retake humanity."
Besides being a New London High School graduate, King is a 1975 Connecticut College alum. This weekend he is being honored with Conn's Harriet Buescher Lawrence '34 Prize, which recognizes outstanding contributions to society by members of the college community.
His works before "The Rescuers" include the Emmy-winning "Bangin," a 1999 PBS documentary on youth violence in America, and "Rapping with Shakespeare," a 2008 film about an English teacher who used rap and hip-hop to help students appreciate Shakespeare.
While "The Rescuers" focuses on World War II to a large degree, it finds echoes in the violence and the need for heroism in the modern world. It uses the past to try to understand what can help combat, say, the genocide in Darfur.
The WWII survivors are interviewed by Stephanie Nyombayire, a Rwandan activist who lost 100 members of her family in that country's 1990s genocide, and Holocaust historian Sir Martin Gilbert.
Among the diplomats highlighted in the film is Salem's Hiram Bingham, who was the U.S. consular official in France when he issued safe passes and letters of transit to Jews and other refugees. Also featured is Princess Alice of Greece, who hid Jews in the royal palace during the German occupation. Her grandson, England's Prince Charles, is seen briefly in "The Rescuers" speaking about her.
The idea for "The Rescuers" came from Joyce Mandell, a benefactor who has helped fund four of King's films. She mentioned to him a photo exhibition about these diplomats and the people they saved, and King became intrigued by their stories.
It took King three years to put together "The Rescuers." He ended up with 150 hours of footage, which he pared down to 90 minutes.
"The Rescuers" has been selected to be screened at the NAACP Image Awards held at Oscar time.
King said the process is "not over yet."
"I have to go promote the film," he said. "I have to go to film festivals around the world."
When a student at New London High School, King was into writing poetry, not making movies. He told the current students that he was just like them. He said he did his best sometimes and "I struggled sometimes, but I fought my way through it. ... Sometimes, if it's difficult, you have to fight your way."
And, he was quick to note, that applies to life as much as it does to school. As a filmmaker, King still has to fight.
It is a fight, though, that he clearly loves. He had started on a very different career path before realizing he wanted to work in film.
"I have a degree in government and economics from Connecticut College, so I worked on Wall Street, then I worked for Ford Motor Co. One day I asked myself, 'What do I really love to do?' " he said.
He makes movies, of course, but he also teaches about movies.
"I'm a professor when I'm not making films," he said. "I take a break, I go in and inspire some young minds, which is great. I love the kids because they're full of ideas. Then I go and make my next film."
Asked about the impact of hearing from someone who has accomplished what King has, Bianca Timpano, a ninth-grader at New London High School, said she "thought it was pretty cool."
"It kind of picks up people's dreams to become what they want to be from just a normal high school student," she said.
If you go
What: Screening of "The Rescuers," Michael King's documentary
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Evans Hall in the Cummings Art Center, Connecticut College, New London.