International festival to screen professor’s documentary on Veterans Day

The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival will screen Penn State assistant professor Boaz Dvir’s “A Wing and a Prayer” as an official selection at 6 p.m. Nov. 11 (Veterans Day) at the Sunrise Civic Center and again that weekend at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at Fort Lauderdale’s Savor Cinema. 

The critically acclaimed, popular PBS film tells the little-known story of World War II aviators who risked their lives and U.S. citizenships in 1948 to prevent what they viewed as a second Holocaust.

The Miami Herald‘s Ana Veciana-Suarez said the documentary “tells the story of how a few idealists effected change despite great obstacles.”

An award-winning filmmaker, Dvir (“Jessie’s Dad,” “Discovering Gloria”) will introduce the film and answer audience questions following both screenings. He will be joined during the Q&As by the historical consultant for “A Wing and a Prayer,” University of Florida College of Journalism dean emeritus Ralph Lowenstein. 

As a Columbia University freshman in 1948, Lowenstein volunteered to fight for Israel in its independence war. In the early 1980s, he started archiving the participation of more than 1,000 Americans and Canadians in the first armed conflict between the Jewish state and its neighbors.

The hour-long documentary has screened in several venues, including the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City, Columbia University Global Center in Paris, and Syracuse University.

“Boaz Dvir succeeds in bringing an obscure but signal period of history out of the shadows,” wrote J.R. Hafer in his review of the film for 20th Century Aviation Magazine.

Tickets for the Fort Lauderdale screenings will go on sale Oct. 1, by phone (954-525-3456) or online (www.fliff.com/buy-fliff-tickets).

Narrated by actor William Baldwin (“Backdraft,” “Squid and the Whale”), “A Wing and a Prayer” features firsthand accounts of daring escapes and heart-pounding action. Dvir secured exclusive interviews with the operation’s leaders, including mastermind Al Schwimmer, chief pilot Sam Lewis and Christian crew leader Eddie Styrak. Their tell-all interviews provide rich detail about a group of Jews and Christians who helped reshape history, yet have been forgotten by history books. 

Schwimmer’s recruits thought they were done fighting after WWII ended in 1945, yet he convinced them to put their lives and U.S. citizenships on the line to give the Jewish state a fighting chance.

Vowing to “push the Jews into the sea,” the Arab League anticipated weak opposition, since Israel had a sparsely armed military, a wingless air force and no allies. Even the United States joined the worldwide embargo that threatened to strangle Israel as it took its first breath. In fact, America went as far as barring its citizens from helping the Jewish state.

The morning after Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, five Western-equipped armies invaded. The Jews’ return to their ancient land appeared short-lived. But Schwimmer had a plan.

Schwimmer’s plan called for eluding the FBI and outsmarting the U.S. State Department by creating factitious airlines, buying and fixing decommissioned transport planes and smuggling in surplus Nazi weapons from behind the Iron Curtain. 

Schwimmer and his men helped reshape history. Yet history books have ignored them. “A Wing and a Prayer” fills in that missing chapter.

“I feel lucky and honored to have had the opportunity to tell their incredible stories,” said Dvir, who served as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces during the first Gulf War.

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Last Updated September 13, 2016