At times pounding with gripping intensity yet underscored by an unyielding hope, the film “Return to The Hiding Place,” premiered Friday (May 23) at Knickerbocker Theatre in Holland.
The story, based on events during the Dutch resistance against the Nazis in World War II, centers on Hans Poley (portrayed by David Thomas Jenkins) and Piet Hartog (Craig Robert Young), two young heroes of the underground movement in the Netherlands during Nazi occupation.
Another central character is Corrie ten Boom (smartly played by Mimi Sagadin), a woman who led a family effort to provide safe-haven for Jews sought by Nazis for extermination.
The movie includes many scenes filmed right here in Dutch-influenced West Michigan and appreciated by the local audience. Most prominent was nearby Windmill Island – the windmill turns out to be a secret meeting place for the underground members as they plan strategy to fight their Nazi overlords.
“If not us, then who?” asks a determined Hartog as the group decides to foil the Nazi plan to “exterminate” a Jewish orphanage where ten Boom’s niece Aty (Rachel Spencer Hewitt) cares for children.
A FAITH CONNECTION
The Christian faith provides the backbone and the justification for the actions of many of the young fighters. Forged and stolen documents, the hiding of Jews and resistance members and even violence all serve a higher purpose.
“Christian truth is revolution against the kingdom of darkness,” advises one of the young fighters.
“The most important thing is…..we’re saving lives.”
Young Poley, who narrates the film, assumes the false identity of a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church and had some freedom of movement in connection with area churches while concealing his underground activities.
There’s even a mention of theologian John Calvin during the film.
One of the Jews hid by the ten Booms was a Rabbi (Eusi, played by John Rhys-Davies) who comes to an understanding with the ten Booms about their faith and their commitment to rescuing Jews).
The darkness in the film suggests the life of the underground resistance member, under constant danger of arrest. Their actions often come in the shadows, at night, hidden in small rooms or in the narrow pockets between the closely-spaced buildings of cities such as Haarlem, where the ten Booms lived.
And who can you trust when even friends or family may share vital information with the authorities in an attempt to protect other loved ones?
One of those in the audience at Friday’s premiere was Don Sinnema, 67, who was struck by the film’s historical depictions.
“I saw the complexity of the resistance movement led by the students and the convictions they held,” noted the Holland resident.
“I guess most important to me is to remember the sacrifice, the conviction and the bravery of those who were involved, because this sort of thing could happen again.”
Friday’s audience broke out in applause at the film’s end. Most remained until the end of the credits during which the film updated the fate of the real life people behind the on-screen characters.
Hans Poley, who was arrested and later released from a prison work camp, survived the war and went on to become a physicist. The film was based on a book of his wartime letters and journals. He died in 2003.
Several actors in the film were also in attendance at the premiere. Keith Seccombe of Grand Rapids had the role of a prison camp doctor who struck up a relationship with Poley during his imprisonment.
And 8 year old Reece Nesbitt of Grand Rapids, who played one of the children at the orphanage, came with his parents, Tim and Jodi Nesbitt.
“The Return to The Hiding Place” was actually completed several years ago (local scenes were filmed in 2010) and has already been available in Europe. The U.S. version released this month is a bit different. The film will go for wider distribution in September and is expected to eventually be available on DVD.
To see the film:
“Return to The Hiding Place,” a film directed by Peter Spender and Josiah Spencer, in Knickerbocker Theatre, 86 E. 8th St. in Holland; 1:30 and 4 p.m. Sat. May 24; and 4 p.m. May 27 and 28. All tickets are $7. The Knickerbocker information line is 616-395-7890. Rated PG-13. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, or may be available at the door.