Paper Clips (2005)
In 1998 principal Linda Hooper and two teachers at the middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee (a former mining town with a population of 1,600) cast about for a school project that would teach their eight graders about prejudices, stereotypes, diversity, and tolerance. Their little town, they knew, was entirely white, and the middle school enrolled no Jews, no Catholics, only five African Americans, and one Hispanic. They settled on the theme of the Holocaust. But how to teach it? They would collect one paper clip for each person killed by Hitler—six million in all, inspired by Norwegians who had worn a paper clip on their lapel during the war to protest the Holocaust. The project stalled after an initial burst of energy and enthusiasm, then a reporter for the Washington Post and the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw ran pieces about the project. In the end they collected 27 million paper clips from around the world, 11 million of which they displayed in a rail car that had transported Jews to the death camps. Walls fall, and hearts open. The teachers tell how they stereotype northerners, and even their own students. The town meets Holocaust survivors who speak in the local Methodist church. This might not be a great documentary film. I thought it dragged a little, plus I think it is hard to say much new about the Holocaust. But the simple narration of how real people were genuinely transformed in an otherwise insignificant middle school was remarkable. I only wish I had watched Paper Clips with my ninth grade daughter. Don't miss this film.