Coming to theatres today, Friday, September 9: DEFYING THE NAZIS: THE SHARPS’ WAR
Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky’s chronicle of a couple’s dedication to rescuing those persecuted by the Third Reich makes its theatrical debut in New York and Los Angeles today. Special community screenings also will be held before the film’s broadcast debut on PBS later this month.
Joukowsky approached Burns to help shape the story of the former’s grandparents, Waitstill and Martha Sharp, resulting in both this film and a companion book. Waitstill, a Unitarian minister, was tasked by his superiors to undertake a clandestine mission of refugee relief in 1939 together with his wife, a staunch social justice advocate. Leaving their small children for several months, the couple made their way to Prague, where they secretly helped relocate Jewish refugees and other dissidents to keep them safe from the threat of Nazi persecution. So successful where they at completing their task that, soon after their return home, they were called to serve in Europe once again. For their valiant efforts to save Jewish lives, the Sharps were eventually posthumously recognized as the Righteous Among the Nations by Israel. Joukowsky and Burns couch their story via extensive voiceover reenactments of correspondence and other writings – with Waitstill in particular distractingly voiced by the too recognizable Tom Hanks – making for an often awkward retelling, exacerbated by a too-heavy score and occasional unnecessary scene reenactments. More effective are the recollections of several of the individuals the Sharps saved, a series of conventional talking heads that nevertheless speak with authenticity and emotion about the courageous couple’s literally lifesaving acts.