WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Not many positive, heartwarming stories have come out of the Holocaust. As a whole, the period between 1933, when Hitler ascended to power in Germany, and 1945, when his reign of terror came to a violent end, was a stretch of absolute horror in Eastern Europe that's probably impossible to comprehend. We've seen many films, and have read many books, that try to convey that horror, and we've come to a limited understanding of what befell millions of Jews under Nazi rule. It was obviously a time of unimaginable fear and sadness, so when a story like Kindertransports comes along, it's like a ray of hope shining out of the darkness.
We all know—or at least we try to know, and even grasp—the facts: Hitler and his Nazis enforced an impossibly inhumane and increasingly fervent persecution of the race of Jews, stripping them of their dignity, their possessions, their homes and businesses, their families, and in many cases, their lives. In an act of genocide, over years, Hitler sent millions of people to concentration camps, to their ultimate humiliation and death. Again, this is not a setting from which many stories of hope typically spring. We know of Oskar Schindler, reluctant hero immortalized by Thomas Keneally and Steven Spielberg. And now here's a documentary about the Kindertransports (the children's transport), a period in which thousands of Jewish children were separated from their often-doomed parents and shipped to England, the sole country to open its doors to the penniless, parentless immigrants.
My Knees Were Jumping: Remembering the Kindertransports tells its story from the perspective of actual members of the Kindertransports from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Documentarian Melissa Hacker arrives at the project from an intensely personal angle: Her mother, Ruth Morley, was a child on one of those trains. The most powerful element of My Knees Were Jumping is Hacker's intimate approach. You get the feeling of a close friend or relative sitting with you and talking about his or her most personal memories of a horrific period in history. Indeed, toward the end, Hacker sits down with her mom on the beach for a touching one-to-one about life and love under the shadow of the Kindertransports. It's a surprisingly affecting and powerful approach.
The story is not just about Ruth Morley, however. We get firsthand accounts from various survivors, as well as archival photographs and film, giving the documentary a nice sense of history behind the talking heads. The most emotional segments deal with the memories of the children saying goodbye to their parents, some of whom understood that they would never see those children again. As the participants tell their stories, they don't necessarily give in to emotion, but you can see the dark stain of the memories just behind their faces. You understand that they've lived with something terrible, to which they owe their lives.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Docurama presents My Knees Were Jumping in a full-frame transfer of the film's original 1.33:1 presentation. This is an accurate representation of the source material, which is by turns grainy and fragile historical material and current shot-on-video footage. Detail is just fine, and colors are accurate and warm. Don't expect a brilliant image. I noticed instances of artifacting, for example, but for this presentation, it wasn't bothersome. The power here is in the message, not in the look.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 2.0 track merely gets the job done. Dialog is clear and accurate, and the score is engaging. Everything's front and center, with little activity across the soundstage, but again, it's not necessary.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The sole supplement on the disc is a text-only Filmmaker Biography of director Melissa Hacker.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
A documentary very much worth a look, My Knees Were Jumping is a personal, focused look at the Kindertransports, which injected a bit of sadness-tinged hope into a terrible time. The DVD presentation is merely adequate.