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January 14, 2015

Library of Congress Honors Film by USC Professor

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000), the Academy Award-winning documentary by Mona and Bernard Kantor Endowed Chair in Production, Mark Jonathan Harris, was selected for addition to the National Film Registry for 2014.

In 1938, amidst the unrest and initial stirrings of World War II, the United Kingdom launched a remarkable rescue effort known as the Kindertransport, in which over 10,000 Jewish children were relocated to Great Britain from Nazi-occupied Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. The children, whose ages ranged from infancy to seventeen, traveled alone by train to British foster homes and hostels, leaving behind the only home they knew for a strange and uncertain future.

Remarkable stories of loss, struggle, and survival – recounted by the actual kind (children), rescuers, and parents who lived through it – are the subjects of Harris’ film. What sets this film apart from the multitude of Holocaust documentaries, according to Professor Harris, is the focus. “Most of them ask the question, ‘How the hell could this happen?’ We wondered, ‘How do the people who lived through this survive?’”

The documentary’s induction into the National Film Registry is a special honor, given the unique nature of the Registry itself. Created in 1988, the National Film Registry works to ensure the survival of films with considerable import to American history. It is a living treasury of cinematic art to be preserved for posterity. Given the broad criteria for admittance, the films chosen are hugely disparate. How else can a single list include everything from 12 Angry Men (1957) to Boyz n the Hood (1991) to The Empire Strikes Back (1980)?

In the past 27 years, only 650 titles have been added, from Casablanca (1942), one of the first inductees in 1989 to now. Professor Harris highlighted the significance of the recognition, explaining, “The Academy Awards, as everyone knows, are a snapshot of one year. This film’s selection by the National Film Registry means that the movie has had a long life and will continue to going forward.”

Other films chosen for permanent preservation in the National Film Registry for 2014 include the 1998 Coen Brothers cult comedy, The Big Lebowski, John Hughes ‘80s classic, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and the beloved 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder.

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport is in rare company, celebrated as an indelible image of American life that will, quite literally, be treasured forever.