Films dealing with Holocaust situations are everywhere. At least one is nominated every year for an Academy Award. Many are told from a Jewish or survivor point of view in an effort to humanize a situation gradually slipping from general consciousness. Sometimes there are so many that it can get overwhelming and you begin to shut certain information out. It's not for lack of caring about the atrocities that were committed so much as hearing it so many times before.
The story of Paper Clips is engrossing because it comes from the entirely opposite end of the spectrum, seeking out knowledge because it simply wasn't there before. A principal and a couple of teachers at a middle school in the middle of Tennessee decided to use the events of the Holocaust to learn along with their children about the nature and effects of intolerance.
The extremely articulate Principal Hooper sets an erudite tone of naiveté of the larger world beyond this small town of just 1,600 residents. Admittedly the population is extremely white, so her intent was to teach about diversity even if it wasn't seen on a daily basis. The Holocaust is chosen because people were targeted for being something they had no control over. From there, the use of the paper clip is symbolic of the Norwegian use of the symbol during that time period as resistance. Hence, they set out to collect the amount of paper clips of those who died, in response to one child asking what six million looked like.
After garnering media attention from several sources, and letters from all over the world, the lovely folks of Whitwell Middle School extended their collection into further, exemplary, and well considered educational uses. Even with said attention, and positive feedback from celebrities and politicians alike, there isn't a single moment where you question the integrity of their purpose to open eyes and spread words of human kindness.
Some of the strongest moments in the 84-minute film are the adults speaking of the prejudices they found in themselves during the project, and the assumptions we all instantly make upon meeting people. It's truly moving to see older members of a community learning about something for the first time while teaching the subject.
The only emotional impetus comes from people reading their own letters as they were sent to these children. It may be helpful from a filmmaker or distributor perspective to have Tom Bosley reading on camera, but it unfortunately distracts from the central, contagious, warm-spirited growth taking place in this community.
It may not be shot or edited all that immaculately, or cut together with any specific artistic intention, but the purpose of the film and the effects it has on the participants and viewer are no less profound. It comes across a bit as an after school special, but the message attached is genuine and worth listening to.