Paper Clips, a documentary about children and teachers in a small Tennessee town who created a Holocaust memorial, opens this week.
It all started when parents and teachers in an Appalachian town decided their kids — almost all white and Protestant — weren’t learning about other people. Principal Linda Hooper and history teacher David Smith decided to offer a special, after-school class for eighth graders on the Holocaust as a way to teach about tolerance.
(Teacher Sandy Roberts) began by reading aloud to the kids from Elie Wiesel’s Night, Anne Frank’s diary, and history books. Her students were having a hard time understanding the magnitude of the Holocaust. They never had seen 6 million of anything. The kids decided to collect 6 million paper clips.
They needed something small, and they’d learned that occupied “Norwegians had worn paper clips on their collars to show their solidarity with Jews and their opposition to Nazism and anti-Semitism,” reports The Washingtonian.
With a little help from out-of-towners, the students ended up with 30 million paper clips and a World War II-era German rail car.
In the New York Times, A.O. Scott complains the movie is too life affirming.
By the end, though, I found myself bothered by the sense of self-congratulation that radiated through the film, and that seemed to tug against the gravity of the historical cataclysm that the students were meant to be studying. The dedication ceremony at the Whitwell memorial, which includes a German railway car once used to transport people to the death camps, is touching, but also a little strange. It testifies not only to the hard work and high-mindedness of the people of Whitwell, but also to the stubbornly affirmative character of American educational culture, which can turn even the most unfathomable horrors of history into a reason for people to feel good about themselves.
Miramax is distributing the movie.