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Paper Clips
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There's a simplicity and childlike amateurism to Paper Clips, the new documentary from Miramax. The unmixed sound and sentimentalized voiceovers add charm to this story about a town isolated from other cultures that explores humanity at its lowest, and hence illustrates humanity at its highest. The camera, instead of an indifferent observer, wavers as if handled by a child. It coats the film with innocence and decency that elevates this small film.
In 1998, the principal of Whitwell Middle School in Tennessee wanted to teach the children about racism. They chose the Holocaust and extermination of the Jews as a way to educate the children of "what happens when intolerance reigns." Research led the children to a program in Norway during the war where townspeople wore paperclips on their clothing to silently protest Nazism. The school decided to collect paperclips from all over the world, to represent each of the six million Jews annihilated.
With the involvement of professional journalists, this small story became a focal point for commemorating Hitler's victims, not only for Jews but the entire 11 million victims, including gypsies, Jehovah's witnesses and homosexuals.
The unpretentious movie illustrates how the youth of the world are capable of righting past wrongs. Integrated interviews with the students, celebrities and holocaust survivors tie these different people together. Some narrative scenes - particularly the first voiceover-rely to heavily on telling rather than showing. Other scenes intelligently utilize subtlety, particularly when the events correspond with September 11th 2001.
The interviews are self-revelatory with participants admitting their own biases before embarking upon the project. It's one thing for children (and teachers for that matter) to detachedly perform a deed to teach the world. It's quite actualized for them to admit to their prejudices.
The film mentions one of our greatest tragedies; the last of the eyewitnesses are dying of old age. Soon only second and further removed generations will be capable of keeping the agony of WWII fresh, preventing it from being repeated. This film is one strong vehicle. ***
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