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Audience grows for Penn State senior lecturer’s film

Boaz Dvir, the filmmaker of “A Wing and a Prayer,” said he feels a strong sense of responsibility toward the people he interviews and the stories he tells.
Boaz Dvir, the filmmaker of “A Wing and a Prayer,” said he feels a strong sense of responsibility toward the people he interviews and the stories he tells. CDT file photo

Boaz Dvir is a tough audience — especially when it comes to his own films.

Early last week, Dvir, a senior lecturer at Penn State’s College of Communications, slipped out of the room during a screening of his nonfiction film “A Wing and a Prayer” in Syracuse, N.Y. If anybody noticed, they didn’t say anything.

It’s not that Dvir isn’t proud of the finished product — he is — but there’s a degree of difficulty to watching one’s work unfold on a big screen that’s akin to watching a video of yourself fast-dancing at a family wedding. Things that made sense at the time now seem sloppy and uncoordinated.

“When I can sneak away, I do,” Dvir said.

If Dvir is trying to avoid his own work, he’s quickly running out of places to hide.

“A Wing and a Prayer” tells the story of a group of World War II aviators who smuggled $12 million worth of surplus weaponry and supplies into Israel to help it ward off attacks from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt.

The nonfiction film has aired on more than 150 PBS stations and at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday will screen in Paterno Library’s Foster Auditorium. It’s also available on DVD.

Basically, it’s not going away any time soon.

Which is good. Dvir developed the film with an eye toward inspiring young people and adding to the mainstream historical record — he’s just not sure if he’s managed to accomplish that yet.

The filmmaker feels a strong sense of responsibility toward the people he interviews and the stories he tells.

“I’m obligated to to tell them, to tell them well and make sure they have the impact that they deserve,” Dvir said.

He admits that he was spoiled on his first film, 2011’s “Jessie’s Dad,” which focused on Mark Lunsford, a Florida trucker turned advocate after the abduction, rape and murder of his 9-year-old daughter.

Lunsford was eventually able to use Dvir’s finished film as he lobbied for tougher sentencing for sex offenders and to establish new procedures to protect children.

It was tangible proof that the filmmaker had created something capable of making a difference.

“It’s almost selfish, like I want to experience that again,” Dvir said.

Like any showman worth his salt, Dvir knows how to read his audience. If they’re shuffling in their seats or checking their phones during a screening, he notices. So far, that hasn’t been the case.

Penn State Great Valley screened the film last Thursday in a 350-seat venue — and 370 people requested tickets.

Still, Dvir thinks that he can do more.

The final cut of “A Wing and a Prayer” clocks in at an hour, but Dvir collected almost 140 hours worth of footage and interviews.

He’s exploring the possibility of taking the unseen material and compiling it into an interactive website or something that can be taken into schools or libraries.

“I would love for professors and grad students to mine this,” Dvir said.

Even when the picture is locked, a filmmaker’s work is never finished.

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