“Vital Passage,” a documentary produced by Goshen College’s FiveCore Media, premiered to a sold out crowd of 250 people at the Goshen Theater last Friday.The documentary was originally supposed to be a 10-minute short film, but as more of the story was discovered the creators realized that a short film was not going to be enough time. In the end it became a 55-minute documentary.
“Vital Passage” tells the story of David and Sydney Plaut, the film’s two protagonists who sponsored refugees from Germany prior to World War II.
The inspiration for the movie came from the discovery of documents 70 years after the Plaut’s hid them under the floor in the basement of their store. In the papers was a preservation of how the Plaut’s aided the arrival of 28 German Jews to the United States.
The documentary also tells the lives of the Plaut family and their own journey to America, as well as the building of the Plaut’s Dry Goods store in downtown Goshen, which gave the family the financial means to help others escape from the Nazi regime.
“Even as a little kid, I saw this [story] as very important and worth sharing,” said Steve Gruber, executive producer and grandson of Sydney Plaut. “I had to drag information out of my grandfather, who seemed unwilling. You know, as an adult, I realized he was unwilling because he himself had lost relatives.”
Gruber wanted to make sure the story was told because of its relevance.
“For me personally, it is a great story, despite my grandfather’s personal regrets that he couldn’t do more,” Gruber said. “It is a story that is very timely for today, especially since there’s such a rise in violence against minorities in this country. A huge spike in anti-Jewish violence and even assassinations in synagogues. I think it’s quite appropriate today.”
Twenty Goshen College students led by Hufford worked on this documentary for over 1,000 hours from the spring of 2017 until April 8.
“We are extremely excited for the opportunity to finally tell this story to not only our local
Goshen community but also the world,” said Kyle Hufford, Goshen College associate professor of
communication and FiveCore Media’s executive director.
Junior Eric Miller, editor of the documentary, knew the power of the story and wanted to help portray it in a meaningful fashion.
“My goals as a filmmaker are not only to entertain, but also to educate,” Miller said. “What makes this project so special is the fact that this is the first time many people in Goshen are hearing about this story. When editing the film, I wanted to give the story the care and respect it deserves. This story takes younger viewers back to a time that is becoming more and more distant, and we felt that it was important to remind people how difficult and dangerous it was to be fleeing Nazi Germany and seeking refuge in the United States in the late 30s.”
The film was warmly received by the present audience, as observed by Gruber.
“Well, you know, you hear a lot of people describe a project as [their baby],” Gruber said. “It really was like my baby. You know, Kyle and [I] and students for years had tried to tell the story. So finally, it’s like you’re sending your kid off to school, you hope it doesn’t leave, he doesn’t get beat up, or made fun of and I think I knew it was a good story, but you don’t know until you see people’s reactions.”
After a long four years, Gruber was proud of how the film came together.
“I think we got it right,” he said. “It was really a relief and it was incredibly gratifying to see folks there. People who knew my grandfather or just were from Goshen and shopped in the store were curious about it, and so far people really have responded very well to the film.”
The first showing of “Vital Passage” on GC’s campus will be this upcoming fall semester.