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The title of Matej Minac’s documentary refers to the children who were rescued from Nazi clutches by Nicholas Winton just before the outbreak of World War II. And it’s a big family indeed. Winton, who has been dubbed “Britain’s Schindler,” was a young stockbroker who traveled to Prague in December 1938. Quickly realizing the extent of the gathering storm, he created an organization — manned solely by himself — that arranged transport for 669 Czech and Slovak children to the safety of host families in England. Nicky’s Family recounts this inspirational tale, which remains little-known despite being the subject of a previous television documentary by the same filmmaker.
Part of the reason for the story’s obscurity is the modesty of its hero, who said nothing about his exploits for more than half a century. It only came to light in 1988, when his wife discovered documents in an attic trunk detailing the operation. Still alive at the age of 104 and having received a knighthood, Winton is seen only briefly in the film, in short interviews and scenes in which he is reunited with some of those he rescued. An end credit note reveals that only 261 of them have made themselves known.
The film relates the story in clear, cohesive fashion, using a combination of archival footage and photographs, interviews with survivors, and, least effectively, cheesy re-enactments more suited to low-budget cable history programs than a feature documentary.
The last part of the film is largely, and deservedly, celebratory, as it depicts the ongoing positive results of Winton’s bravery, such as the descendants of those he saved detailing how it inspired them to their own humanitarian efforts and footage of a gala musical event featuring Prague schoolchildren in which he was the guest of honor.
Despite such heartbreaking stories as that of a mother who voluntarily removed her young child from a train to prevent her from suffering an eventual fate, Nicky’s Family is that rare Holocaust documentary that is largely uplifting. And it’s particularly heartwarming to note that its central figure is still around to reap his deserved accolades.
Opens: Friday, July 19 (Menemsha Films)
Production: Trigon Productions
Director: Matej Minac
Screenwriters/producers: Matej Minac, Patrick Pass
Directors of photography: Dodo Simoncic, Antonin Danhel, Martin Kubala, Petr Zubal
Editor: Patrik Pass
Costume designer: Jarmila Konecna
Composer: Janusz Stoklosa
Not rated, 96 min.
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