Tenn. School Stars in Film

By David J. Hoff — September 22, 2004 1 min read

Paper Clip Project is subject of documentary

A documentary about a collection of 30 million paper clips isn’t common fare at film festivals.

But the story of how students at a Tennessee middle school collected the fasteners in a project designed to memorialize Holocaust victims is making the festival circuit-and wowing audiences along the way.

The 84-minute film-titled simply “Paper Clips"-has won audience-choice awards in Washington, Atlanta, Palm Springs, Calif., and Rome, Ga. It is scheduled for theatrical release next month.

The power of the film, according to its producer, is watching students from a rural, predominantly Christian community come to understand the plight of European Jews from another generation. Scenes in which Holocaust survivors meet the students are especially poignant, according to Joe Fab, who produced, wrote, and directed the film with Elliot Berlin.

“You have this meeting of two groups from really, really different backgrounds,” Mr. Fab said in an interview last week. “You watch as people tell their horrific stories, and these people sit rapt, listening. You see the genuine openness of the people there.”

Mr. Fab and his collaborators first discovered the Paper Clip Project from the attention it drew in the news media. Starting in 1998, students at Whitwell Middle School set out to collect one paper clip for each of the 6 million victims who died in the Holocaust. (“School’s Paper Clip Project Attracts Worldwide Attention,” May 2, 2001.)

By now, the students have received 30 million paper clips. All of them are stored in a boxcar that once carried prisoners to concentration camps. The school purchased it from Germany’s state-owned railway company and moved it to its grounds.

Today, students at the school lead tours of the rail car and share some of the 30,000 documents the project has collected, according to Linda M. Hooper, the principal of the grades 5-8 school, about 25 miles from Chattanooga.

The students who started the project are now juniors and seniors in high school and are still involved. Just this month, several traveled to the film festival in Rome, Ga., to take part in a forum discussing the documentary after it was shown there.

“They’ve had so much opportunity to go places and meet a diversity of people that they never would have had if they hadn’t done this project,” Ms. Hooper said.