If you missed The Optimists during its run in Wilmette last fall, here’s another chance to see it. Jacky Comforty, an Evanston comedy writer, took up documentary filmmaking in order to tell this story about the fate of Bulgarian Jews in World War II, and spent more than a decade working on it. While The Optimists–cowritten by his wife, Lisa–can occasionally look like any family-history video, the tale is extraordinary even in the genre of Holocaust history. Although Bulgaria was a German ally, the country was unique among its neighbors in that it saved all of its 50,000 resident Jewish citizens from the Nazi death camps. Comforty, whose grandparents were among them, is careful not to offer simplistic explanations. Rather, he lays out the combination of circumstances that made this possible: the Jews’ long history in Bulgaria; their integration and acceptance there; Bulgaria’s oppression by the Turks; a strong democratic constitution; a few exceptionally courageous leaders in the Bulgarian parliament and the Orthodox church; and honorable people with the courage of their convictions among the populace. Ironically, the fact that Bulgaria was a collaborator rather than an occupied country may have been the most important factor, as locals, rather than German officials, were left in charge. An open-ended run of The Optimists began June 20; the film shows at 4:30, 7, and 9:15 daily and also at 2 Saturday and Sunday at the Highland Park Theatre, 445 Central in Highland Park. Jacky Comforty is scheduled to talk after the 7 PM shows Friday and Saturday, and after the 4:30 screening on Sunday. Tickets are $5, $3.50 before 6 PM; call 847-432-3300 for more information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/copyright Jacky and Lisa Comforty.