United World Project


Myself and the other

6 June 2023   |   , ,
Jan, Kuno, Hendrika and Miep laugh over breakfast in A SMALL LIGHT. (From left: Joe Cole as Jan Gies, Preston Nyman as Kuno, Gabriella Farr as Hendrika, and Bel Powley as Miep Gies). (Credit: National Geographic for Disney/Dusan Martincek)

Two very different stories but the same journey towards love of the other.  One, a TV drama series – ‘A Small Light’ ;  the other a documentary – Wild Life: a love story. The first, captures the nightmare of WWII and the Holocaust; the second, the dream of an environmentalist in South America: to create national parks. Two stories linked by a common thread, a profound encounter in which saving ‘the other’, brings healing to themselves. 

Reaching out to others.  Leaving the warmth of our comfort zone, is the fertile soil which bears fruit for others, whether a person, a family, a community or even the whole world. Both stories, each in their own way, carry this message of, giving us much material to reflect upon.

One is set in the past, within one of the most sorrowful moments of history; it lasts for many episodes; essentially, it is a re-enactment, though based on a true story; by contrast, the other is more recent, poetic, utopian, concentrated in one brief documentary and above all, actual.

Both are available to view, from May, on Disney +, National Geographic channel.

Each contains two outcomes, two worlds which cannot co-exist in harmony: war and nature; heaven and hell.  There are other differences too; the first story is not about longing, but compelling need to respond to hatred and evil, in which lives are torn apart, with goodness and selflessness. In the second story, the protagonists have a free choice, to pursue their personal dream, and fulfil a deep inner longing.  The first unfolds from a nightmare, the second from a dream, yet they share a common thread which speaks of love, working for others, hope and beauty.

Both are true stories: in the first, we are transported to the Nazi occupied Low Countries during the Second World War: the second to the region between Chile and Argentina, in more recent times. The first centres around a sadly well-known name; a young girl, Anna Frank, and her family, caught up in the tragic circumstances of human folly at its worst. The second is the gradual unfolding of one-man vision, his inner conviction and determination – and that of the woman alongside him – to bring about the creation and protection of national parks in Patagonia.

In the first story entitled A small light, the main character is Miep Gies; in real life, she was the one who helped the Frank family (Otto, the father, Edith, the mother, Margot the sister and the youngest Anna), together with the Van Pels family and Friedric Pfeffer, hiding them in an attic for two years, right in the centre of Amsterdam.  In agreement with her husband, Jan, a supporter of the Dutch Resistance, along with others, for whom it was simply impossible to turn away, with hearts closed and frozen, she managed to hide the family.  Miep Gies was Otto Frank’s secretary and when he requested her help to hide him and his family, she had replied ‘Yes’, without even a moment’s hesitation. The next two years were filled with anguish and love in her daily sacrifice and the terror of being discovered; and the unimaginable ending that could happen: only Otto survived the concentration camp and lived in sorrow for the rest of his life. But it is thanks to Miep that Anna’s testimony has survived: it was she, who collected the young girl’s few scattered pages from the empty attic, before the Germans, and kept them until one day she could hand them to Anna’s father. She rescued those few crucial pages which have since become the precious diary and testimony we know today.

Jan Gies, played by Joe Cole, and Miep Gies, played by Bel Powley, walk along the canal as seen in A SMALL LIGHT. (Credit: National Geographic for Disney/Dusan Martincek)

The second story, entitled WildLife: A love story, is directed by Oscar-winning directors Elizabeth Chai Yasarhelvi and Jimmy Chin (for their film Free Solo). It tells the story of Doug Tompkins and his wife Kristine, who use their wealth (from a highly successful sports clothing company), to save the planet, their fellow human beings and future generations. They give up the security of the workplace in which they held top positions (Kristen had become CEO) to create and cultivate national parks, in the region between Chile and Argentina. They invest all their money in this project, acquiring the land, piece by piece (seeking help from various institutions), protecting, liberating and defending nature in all her vulnerability and beauty.

A Small Light is one of the most moving and significant of recent TV dramas; the plight of the protagonists touches us deeply, as the full horror of the Holocaust is powerfully and effectively portrayed, without ever showing us a concentration camp. WildLife, by contrast, captivates us with its breathtaking images, leaving us deeply in awe of what it means ‘to care’. In words dedicated to her husband, who passed away in 2015, Kristine speaks of his ‘relentless pursuit of beauty’.

Both stories bear witness to incredible and complex achievements, whether derived from a choice (the first) or a calling (the second), undertaken with all the strength that a human being is capable of (when sustained by a love that bears fruit); paths towards the goodness to which we can and must aspire always.

Miep Gies held onto a tiny ray of light, doing all she could during a dark moment of history.  She filled her water jars, and that tiny light now shines brightly forever, etched upon our memories, where it lives on. Wildlife radiates a light as vast as nature, with its breathtaking beauty, a dance of poetry, wellbeing, interior peace, and enthusiasm for those who watch it.