About the Films | About Matej Mináč

The documentary film,

NICHOLAS WINTON:
THE POWER OF GOOD

This is a superb film, moving and gripping in its grasp of the essence of the human spirit.
- John Doyle The Globe and Mail

Matej Minac's documentary resonates with hope and light. IOFILM review

Nicholas Winton surely exemplifies the miracle of good emerging from evil.
- Kevin Thomas Los Angeles Times

This film should be seen all over the world, because of the important message that it carries with it, about the strength and possibilities that a single human being can change the world.
- Rabbi Marvin Hier Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

In 1939, Sir Nicholas Winton personally and by his own initiative saved the lives of 669 children, most of them Jewish, from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and brought them across Hitler’s Germany to his native Britain. For nearly 50 years, he kept secret how he rescued these children, but now he is often called “Britain’s Schindler.” Unlike Schindler and Wallenberg, Winton is today still alive and well at 95, and still diffident about why he kept his secret for so long. But, he also is an immensely compelling symbol of how the caring of one man can truly make a difference and truly demonstrate “The Power of Good.”

We believe that “The Power of Good” has a strong message for our turbulent times and may be the ultimate expression of confronting “evil” on a personal level . Sir Winton said it best in a letter he wrote in 1939,“…There is a difference between passive goodness and active goodness. The latter is, in my opinion, the giving of one’s time and energy in the alleviation of pain and suffering.It entails going out, finding and helping those who are suffering and in danger and not merely in leading an exemplary life, in a purely passive way of doing no wrong.”

“The Power of Good” shows Winton’s dramatic story of courage and determination of one man who saved Czechoslovak children from the hands of the Nazis. Unique (and especially moving and inspirational) to this film is the presence of Mr. Winton himself who for fifty years did not tell anyone about his extraordinary rescue mission – not even his wife. The story only emerged in 1988 when the BBC broadcast a thrilling show about the first meeting of approximately one hundred of the rescued children with their “secret” rescuer about whom they had known nothing for 50 years.

Today there are over 5000 descendants the “Winton children,” among whom are a Canadian journalist and TV correspondent Joe Schlesinger who was also a guide through the film, a former UK cabinet minister Lord Alfred Dubs, a British film director Karel Reisz (“The French Lieutenant’s Woman”, “Isadora”, “Sweet Dreams”), and many writers, entrepreneurs and various positive contributors to society in the UK, the United States, Canada, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Israel.

The film also contains unique archive footage, much of it never seen before. Holocaust experts such as Mr. Simon Wiesenthal, Mr. Yehuda Bauer and Mrs. Elisabeth Maxwell are also interviewed as well as expresident of the Czech Republic Mr. Vaclav Havel.

Janusz Stoklosa composed the music, and the editor was my friend Patrik Pašš, who also co-produced the film with me.

During the gala award ceremony in New York on November 25, 2002, the documentary won an International Emmy Award as the best foreign documentary. It was the first time that a Czech or Slovak documentary was so honoured.

We assumed that we were attending the prestigious gala ceremony as observers. We did not expect to have even a chance of winning, because we had fierce competition from large TV production companies such as ZDF from Germany, CBC from Canada, and NHK from Japan and the BBC.

In order to attend the award ceremony, I had to purchase a tuxedo, as formal attire was mandatory. Since I was not prepared to spend money frivolously, I purchased the cheapest one I could find. It was made from some synthetic material, and, in hindsight, it turned out to be a wise decision.

The synthetic material was wrinkle-free, and when I appeared on the stage to accept the award, I looked as if I had purchased the tuxedo at an elegant shop.

From the beginning, my wife Karin approached the situation very differently. She was quite convinced right from the beginning that we would win, thus her only concern was to be dressed in top-notch attire. Every third day she posed in a new dress that she either purchased or borrowed from one of her girlfriends. It appeared to me a total waste of time and money.

“Don’t overdo it, we have no chance of winning the award,” I said to her, although I have to admit that her new clothes were very becoming. When I was called during the gala to come up with Patrik to accept the award she whispered to me, “What did I tell you? It was clear to me from the very beginning!”

Ever since then I listen to her more than ever and even do not mind her ever-expanding wardrobe. I decided to keep my inexpensive tuxedo for two reasons: first, it brought me luck, and, secondly, because I can be assured that moths will never come near it!

The New York City premiere of the documentary took place on October 18, 2002, in the Symphony Space Theatre on Broadway in New York City. The show was completely sold out. The organizers did not expect to sell all of the 1,000 tickets to their regular subscribers, so they decided to make the tickets available to the public through their box office.

Wouldn’t you know it! The New York Times printed a highly complimentary article about the documentary and Mr. Winton. The article also announced that Mr. Winton would attend the premiere. The tickets sold out almost immediately, which caused some problems for the organizers. Eight ambassadors, representing countries where some of the “children” live, confirmed their attendance. Even former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary planned to attend, as did the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg. But there were no tickets left! So, the only option available to the organisers was to ignore the safety precautions and to place these eminent people in seats which were strictly reserved for firemen!

I must admit that the huge interest in the documentary was very pleasing . It was a filmmaker’s dream come true! The hall was completely sold out, but people still queued outside the cinema hoping vainly that a seat would be found for them.

From around the United States, nineteen Winton “children” came to the New York premiere. Joe Schlesinger, the renowned CBC journalist, who narrated the documentary, came from Canada. When he invited Nicholas Winton to the stage at the end of the screening, the standing ovation was endless. It was a fantastic feeling!

We spent an entire week in New York City. Nicholas Winton was interested in everything. He wanted to see the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Natural History, and Ground Zero, the site of the terrorist attack against the United States on September 11, 2001.

His planned itinerary was so exhausting that, every evening we all fell into our beds completely worn out, while he was as fresh as can be. One evening, when we tried to convince him to turn in a little early and get some sleep, he retorted, “We did not come to New York to rest, did we?” So, off we went into the night-time streets of New York City.

I must share with you another story connected with Nicholas Winton’s visit to New York.

On a number of occasions Winton told me about the important role the Czechoslovak travel agency Čedok played in his rescue efforts in 1939. They helped him take children out of Czechoslovakia by offering him discounted rail fares. Without this valuable assistance, Winton’s rescue mission would have been much more difficult.

That is why, when preparing to work on the documentary about the rescue mission, we turned to JUDr. Jiří Šimaně and Čedok for cooperation. To our delight, they agreed. They became a major partner in the documentary project. Thanks to them, the film was distributed not only to Czech movie house screens, but also around the world.

When we were planning our trip to the United States, we were concerned about the toll the long flight would take on Winton, who was 93 years old at the time.

The Čedok management did not see a problem.“We will fly him on the supersonic Concorde jet, and he will be in New York in three and a half hours. That will give him hardly enough time to have a cup of coffee and a little rest.”

Mr. Winton was thrilled by the offer. “The flight on the Concorde is even more exciting than visiting New York City. It is high time for me to try it. If not now, then when?”

Thus, thanks to Čedok, Winton’s dream was fulfilled. He always was crazy about airplanes. As gift on his 94th birthday, he received a ride on an ultra-light aircraft above his home in Maidenhead. Thus, he became the oldest person on the planet to fly in such fragile aircraft!

When the Concorde flights were terminated, Winton called me immediately and said “Matěj, wasn’t it wise that I took the Concorde to New York? It was really the last opportunity!”

The London premiere of the documentary took place in September 2002, at the Barbican Centre. On this occasion, the British Minister for European Affairs, Peter Hain, presented Mr. Winton with a letter from Prime Minister Tony Blair. In the letter, the Prime Minister acknowledged Mr. Winton’s efforts and thanked him for all he had done.

The British government recommended to the Queen that Mr. Winton be knighted, which is Britain’s highest form of recognition.

Accordingly, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Nicholas Winton on March 11, 2003, thus making him Sir Nicholas Winton. If I tried to address him as “Sir” in private, however, he probably would give me a clip around the ear! But being knighted did please him.

For one, it helped him in his charitable activities, because it made it easier for him to raise funds for the construction of a new senior citizens’ centre called “Winton House” in Windsor.

Once he said to me, “You see, I can not pass away yet, I still have to finish Winton House,” in his raw sense of humour that so typical of him.

Today, he is renowned and admired, but from time to time he blames me. “You ruined me, Matěj!” he’ll say. “Since your films, I do not have a peaceful moment, and since I became Sir, it is even worse. My home is in constant motion. Constantly people ask for interviews, invite me to attend functions, and I receive sacks of mail. I have so much work that I could use four secretaries! Where are those good old days when I had time to dig in my garden and grow vegetables?”

The European premiere took place at the film festival in Karlsbad, in the Czech Republic. Even there, Winton performed an unexpected act. When he was supposed to speak to the audience, he did not feel like doing so standing up. So, he just hopped onto the stage and sat down! This earned him a round of applause, which was repeated again when he jumped off the stage after he had finished speaking.