PAPER CLIPS (Elliot Berlin and Joe Fab, 2004)
In the documentary PAPER CLIPS, the Whitwell, Tennessee middle school faculty find a unique way to teach diversity to the homogenous student body. The students learn about the Holocaust but have a difficult time comprehending the scope of the genocide. To make it tangible, the students try to collect six million paper clips, each of which represents a Jew killed by the Nazis. During World War II Norwegians wore paper clips on their lapels as a sign of protest, so the item carries extra symbolic weight.
PAPER CLIPS is a well-meaning documentary, but the self-congratulatory tone grates after awhile. The teachers’ concern to expand their students’ limited worldview is admirable, and the kids’ reactions to the horrors of the Holocaust are genuine. I don’t question their powerful experience teaching and learning one of history’s ugliest moments, but as presented in PAPER CLIPS, these people identify with the victims and immerse themselves in Holocaust information to a degree that borders on ickiness. There’s also something troubling about diversity teaching focusing solely on victimization. The Holocaust is an important subject for study, but it isn’t what defines Judaism. PAPER CLIPS shows students being able to rattle off horrific Holocaust details, but what else did they learn other than persecution? The Tennessee middle school’s story is worth hearing, but rather than a feature-length documentary, it’s best suited as a short TV newsmagazine package.
(Review first aired on the April 26, 2005 NOW PLAYING)