“If something isn’t blatantly impossible, there must be a way of doing it.” – Sir Nicholas Winton
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been dreading the inevitability of a Holocaust film coming up on my docket for this year’s Seattle Jewish Film Festival. Having read the synopsis for Nicky’s Family, I was looking forward to the screening in theory but I could not ignore the nagging fear that it was going to be the same old story, different screenwriter. Prior to this year’s SJFF, I hadn’t heard of Sir Nicholas Winton or his harrowing tale of saving hundreds of Czechoslovakian children during the days ramping up to World War II. I was unprepared for the impact the film documenting his life would have on me.
The documentary begins with a brief history on the state of Czechoslovakian society in the late-1930s, a time of peace, prosperity and cultural diversity. Quickly, the story turns as the Nazi takeover begins and thousands of Jewish families are forced into a refugee life. The film then introduces Nicky Winton, a carefree, prospering English gentleman who by stroke of circumstance ends up in Prague in 1938 and becomes witness to the dire situation of the Jewish families. Unable to turn a blind eye, Nicholas focuses on the most possible solution: the transportation of the children to England. Through a well-organized and carefully planned project (the Kindertransports), this one man was able to rescue 669 children from Czechoslovakia almost singlehandedly, before war was declared with Germany on September 1, 1939.
What the documentary does well is that it collects and lays out the intimate, detailed stories of many of the rescued Jewish children, creating the opportunity to become emotionally invested in the lives of these survivors. I was drawn in by the film’s provocative storytelling, as it takes a journey deep into the lives of those touched by one humanitarian who could not sit idly by.
Of course, Holocaust documentaries have their challenges–the biggest being keeping the audience engaged with the information. By now, I’ve seen enough Holocaust films that I don’t want to be overwhelmed with the same images and facts. My only real complaint with the film was the use of reenactment of Nicky’s story, as it was somewhat cheese-ball. Probably, the desired effect of these scenes was to evoke a more thorough audience understanding and deeper emotional connection to the story but I could have lived without them.
Truly, the power of this film resides in the people themselves and their stories. The heroism and bravery of Nicholas; the parents who send their children off into the unknown; the emotion of the rescued children themselves–all was beautifully orchestrated and emphasized through this film. There is certainly something to be said for a theater full of sniffling, bleary-eyed audience members, unashamed of the tears they were wiping from their faces as they left the theater. While this film definitely assuaged my fear of sitting through “yet another Holocaust film”–it was well worth the ninety-six minutes–it was also a relief knowing that the next night’s film was to be a light-hearted Russian-Israeli comedy.
The Seattle Jewish Film Festival runs through March 25 at venues throughout the city, please visit their website for full details.