9 January 2016 | larry-411
Untold story of the humble man who saved a generation
There are essentially two kinds of documentaries. The first turns you on to a story you knew nothing about. The second documents an incident you've heard of -- maybe even have read about or studied -- but uncovers facts that are not only new to you but also put a completely different perspective on what you thought really happened. Call it a revelatory experience. This film from Slovak co-writer/director/producer Matej Minac and co-writer/producer/editor Patrik Pass is a triumphant example of the latter.
Nicky's Family tells the dramatic story of the Kindertransport, a mission to save children from Central and Eastern Europe as Hitler rose to power in the late 1930s by secreting them onto trains to the United Kingdom. The film focuses on one man, Nicholas Winton ("Nicky"), who singlehandedly rescued 669 primarily Jewish children from Czechoslovakia in just a few short months. Winton, a wealthy but unassuming British entrepreneur without many political concerns, was off on a ski trip to Switzerland in 1938 when he changed plans to meet up with his friend Martin Blake in Prague, who saw the swastikas on the horizon and was helping Jewish refugees out of the country. The Nazi campaign was beginning to exert its influence on the local population, turning neighbor against neighbor as Hitler's disciples marginalized those who didn't fit his Master Plan -- not just Jews, but also Czechs and Slavs, Gypsies, and homosexuals.
As homes and businesses were destroyed or commandeered by the Nazis, and as unwitting, otherwise law-abiding citizens began to be crammed into ghettos and shipped off to transit camps on the way to more horrific locations as yet unknown, families were often broken up to fulfill the needs of the regime. It quickly became apparent to the 29-year-old Winton that there was a narrow window of opportunity in this pre-war period during which he could use his connections, communication skills, and business acumen to help shepherd the doomed children out of the country before the fate of these innocents was sealed.
Nicky's Family reveals not only the tenacity with which Winton pursued this seemingly impossible task but also the tremendous luck involved in such a massive undertaking. It achieves this through a cleverly constructed three-layered approach: narrative recreations mixed with poignant archival footage and present-day interviews with the survivors. Minac and Pass have crafted a literate script that captures every nuance, each dramatic twist and turn along the way towards freedom for these children, without sacrificing historical accuracy. There's a wealth of information packed into this movie but it never overwhelms the viewer or feels rushed.
Slovak cinematographer Dodo Simoncic has shot 40 theatrical and television motion pictures, and his experience shows in the almost-palpable sensitivity which leaps off the screen in the telling of Nicky's achievement. The recreated historical scenes look breathtakingly authentic, unlike similarly structured documentaries which often resemble amateur home videos more than serious, professional films. Shooting locations for this sprawling epic, filmed over the course of almost six years, include the Czech Republic, France, Great Britain, Slovakia, Israel, the USA, Canada, Hungary, Cambodia, and Denmark. The original score by composer Janusz Stoklosa is magnificently haunting and perfectly matches each time and place as the story unfolds. This was clearly a labor of love for the production team. The reenactment cast is outstanding, led by Michal Slaný's heartwarming performance as Nicky -- Britain's "Oskar Schindler." Actual survivors, witnesses, family, and friends brought in for interviews were not shy at all in relating their experiences (except the ever humble Sir Nicholas himself).
The details of how Winton was able to save so many, and have such an impact on the world today, were lost to history for a half century. But how we have come to know "Nicky's" story, as well as what it took to save the 669, is best discovered in the viewing of the film -- the awe-inspiring undertaking, filled with happy accidents as well as cunning craftsmanship, needs to be seen to be believed. It's all in Nicky's Family, and viewers will be moved to tears by what one man was able to accomplish, and what those he saved -- and their children, and children's children -- have done to repay his generosity and kindness.
At age 102, reluctantly, even now, he finds himself surrounded by extended families who, quite literally, would not exist today if not for a simple idea. "If something isn't blatantly impossible there must be a way of doing it," Winton believed. One man's determination to make a difference grew into an odyssey that has left a legacy of generations performing acts of kindness, saving exponentially more human beings than Winton ever imagined when those first trains left Prague.
========= UPDATE: Sir Nicholas Winton passed away on July 1. 2015 at the age of 106. May his kind soul rest in peace.