Paper Clips – A Bid For Tolerance

“Paper Clips” is not your ordinary documentary about the Holocaust. The film documents a Holocaust program taught at a middle school. You may be asking yourself right now – what makes this school program so different that it was documented? The simple answer is this – the program is taught to Christian students at the Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee.
Whitwell is a small rural town in Tennessee that does not have a diverse population. In 1998, Principal Linda Hooper wanted to bring a program to her school where her students would be able to learn about diversity and tolerance. The program she decided to bring to her school was one about the Holocaust.

In “Paper Clips,” filmmakers Joe Fab and Elliot Berlin, document three and a half years of the program. The program began in 1998 and gained national exposure in 2000 thanks to an article in the Washington Post and coverage of it in an NBC Nightly News piece. Most of the footage in “Paper Clips” documents the 2000 – 2002 school years. By this time, the program was already taking shape. Fab and Berlin rely on insightful interviews with students and teachers to fill in the story regarding the early years of the program.

The program became known as the “paper clips project” thanks to astudent who wanted to know what six million looked like. The administration suggested that the students try to collect an ordinary item in order to be able to visualize what six million looks like. The students did some research and decided to collect paper clips since paper clips were worn on lapels in Norway as a symbol of patriotism and resistance against the Nazis during World War II. They wrote letters to numerous people asking them to donate paper clips for their project. In 1999, the students received their first paper clips – 100,000 from a jewelry designer. However, after that, very few paper clips came into the school.

Journalists Peter and Dagmar Schroeder found out about the project and came to the school to check it out. In the film, the Schroeders are interviewed numerous times and use their own words to discuss their heavy involvement in the project. They were able to help the project gain national and international attention as well as help establish a Holocaust Memorial at the school – an authentic Nazi rail car – where 11 million paperclips are on display.

To date, over 36 million paper clips and letters have been sent to the school. With millions of letters to choose from, including letters from Tom Hanks, Steven Speilberg, Bill Cosby, and President Bush, Fab and Berlin selected a handful of letters that were read sporadically and effectively throughout the entire film. Fab and Berlin were also on hand, when five Holocaust survivors from the Greater Five Towns Y Holocaust Survivors’ Group came and visited the town and the school. Town members, students, and faculty members were emotionally engaged and enlightened by the first hand stories from these survivors. Fab and Berlin were able to inter cut footage from the visit with emotional interviews with the students and faculty members. Through this footage, one can easily see how everyone in Whitwell was effected in a positive way by this visit as well as by this project.

“Paper Clips” is a well made documentary that gives the viewer a fresh perspective on learning about the Holocaust through the eyes of a small town. The documentary has received over 32 awards at various film festivals including the Palm Springs International Film Festival and was named one of the five best documentaries of 2004 by the National Board of Review. It is a worthwhile documentary for everyone to see in its bid for tolerance at a time when chaos and intolerance is widespread throughout the world.

If any individual, group, organization, or school would like more information about the film and project, please visit –

Paper Clips is Rated G and runs 87 minutes. It is produced by The Johnson Group and Ergo Entertainment.

Sandy Chertok currently has two short films, which she produced and wrote, circulating on the film festival circuit – the coming of age drama “It’s All Relative” and the action packed “Winter Solstice.” Besides production, Sandy has received numerous accolades for her writing including: finalist in the Chesterfield Writer’s Project Fellowship, finalist in the NBC sponsored Writer’s Foundation America’s Best Original Sitcom Competition for her pilot “For Pete’s Sake,” and quarterfinalists in the Cinestory and Austin Film Festival’s Screenplay Competitions. She received her BFA with honors from New York University.

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