Paper Clips is a documentary about an exclusively white Protestant community, living in the rural area of Tennessee mountains. In 1998, the students of the local Whitwell Middle School, while studying the history lesson on holocaust, came to learn about the extermination of 6 million Jews. However, they could not exactly conceptualize how large a figure 6 million was and sought the teacher’s help. The teacher was unable to explain the enormity of the figure, and what a stupendous loss of life it had been.
So, a project was initiated by the Principal of the school Ms Linda Hooper, to teach the students about the magnitude and importance of the event in human history, and assigned the students to collect 6 million paper clips about the holocaust. During the course of the project, the students had not only cross their target but they could also collect some far more valuable hand written memoirs of individuals who had lost their near and dear ones during the holocaust.
Along the course of this project, which spanned from 1998 to 2003, students learned some lifelong experiences which till then they were not aware of.
Apart from knowing about the darker sides of the holocaust, they also developed genuine human qualities like compassion, kindness, and generosity when they interacted with the Jews during the project. At the end of the project, the students and the Whitwell community members, with the support from international community, built a memorial in remembrance of the holocaust victims. In the school courtyard, the authentic railroad car of the Nazi era was kept, which had been used to transport the Jews and others to the concentration camps.
The railroad car was artistically displayed with individual handwritten stories and all the paper clips collected during the course of the project were kept inside the car. The memorial railcar was filled with 11 million paper clips, representing 6 million Jews and other 5 million victims of the holocaust. This emotionally powerful documentary depicted something genuinely good and after watching it, one cannot help but feel the goodness transmitted to them. It was heartening to see these small town people’s instant bonding with holocaust survivors who visited their community.
The bonding of Cassie Crabtree with holocaust survivor Sam was intensely moving. It was immensely painful listening to the accounts of the holocaust survivors, at the same time it was touching to see the hugs and tears between the two groups and to feel that there were inherently good and compassionate people in this world like the students, teachers, and the community members of the Whitwell community. It was deeply touching to see the student community getting immersed in the holocaust fact finding mission with a single minded passion and zeal.
However, in the documentary, many smaller but important details had been overlooked by the filmmaker. For instance, in spite of the fact that there was great scope for highlighting the speeches of the survivors, the filmmaker had cut the speeches short in order to highlight the reactions of the children more. The creation of the memorial which had taken place just after the terrorist’s attack of the twin tower could have been proved to be advantageous had the documentary linked the central theme of tolerance to the volatile political situation prevailing at that time.
The documentary was nice to watch but it could have been something greater, with some more insight and professionalism on the part of the filmmakers. The scripted narration in the film was not up to the mark and at times was rather distracting. After watching the documentary, one has a feeling that it could also have been a short subject documentary, rather than a full feature length documentary. However, it was a remarkable story and worth watching simply for the depiction of genuine human emotions and to watch those people with hearts of gold.