Jacky Comforty’s 2000 documentary, The Optimists, tells the story of how 50,000 Bulgarian Jews–including Comforty’s parents and grandparents–were saved from the Nazi death camps by a coalition of protesters that included the Bulgarian Orthodox church, labor unions, members of parliament, and countless ordinary non-Jewish citizens. Comforty, an Evanston resident, spent 12 years working on the film and raised most of its budget–over a million dollars–himself.

Cowritten by Comforty’s wife, Lisa, and based on interviews with more than 100 people and thousands of photos that belonged to his grandparents and others, The Optimists was shown as a work in progress in March 2000 at the Chicago Historical Society and premiered in its finished form four months later at the Jerusalem International Film Festival, where it won first prize in the category “Documenting the Jewish Experience.”

Since then the film’s been screened more than 50 times–about half of those at Jewish film festivals, in locales ranging from New York, Berlin, and Tel Aviv to Fort Wayne and Grand Rapids. Though it’s won several additional honors, including the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival’s Peace Prize and a CINE Golden Eagle Award, it’s only now receiving theatrical release.

The Wilmette Theatre expressed interest in showing the film 18 months ago, but the Comfortys didn’t have funds to make a 35-millimeter print until recently; it wasn’t ready until October 17, the night before the film opened in Wilmette for a four-week run that they hope will be extended.

Now that there’s a negative, Comforty wants to get the film into theaters in New York and Los Angeles early next year. “We do not have many successful stories of people resisting a government,” he says. “The story can inspire people from different communities trying to build bridges and not stereotype other minorities.

I’m sure it’s not great fun to be Muslim in America today.”

The Optimists shows daily at 2, 4, 6, and 8 PM at the Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central in Wilmette; tickets are $8, $5 for screenings before 6:15 and for seniors and children under 12. Jacky Comforty plans to be on hand to answer questions after the 6 and 8 PM screenings on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout the run.

Call 847-251-7411 or see www.theoptimists.com for more.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jacky and Lisa Comforty.