Life & Culture

A new way of telling Anne Frank's story

A new animated film makes sure viewers know Anne's tragic fate


.Almost 80 years after her death at Bergen-Belsen, Anne Frank still holds the world’s attention. There’s a horrible irony that the account of the time she spent in hiding she provided in her diary should have given her such lasting fame.

Anne continues to fascinate even those who fail to see the connection between her senseless death and antisemitism across the globe now. Recently there was a furious row after someone suggested she had enjoyed “white privilege”. The Anne Frank Trust in the UK was criticised for straying too far from its initial brief of fighting antisemitism and educating the public about the Shoah while working with avowed anti-Zionists.

Amid the worry that too little is being done to teach younger generations about the Holocaust, the arrival of a new animated film about Anne is all the more welcome. Where Is Anne? is aimed at children and seeks to tell her story in context, in a way they can understand. It is directed by Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman, best–known for Waltz with Bashir, the award-winning animated film based on his experiences of the Lebanon War.

The new release was developed thanks to an initiative by the Anne Frank Foundation (a separate organisation from the Anne Frank Trust) and was first shown at the Cannes Film Festival last year. This week it goes on general release.

When I speak to Folman about his new film I start by remarking on the dedication to his family in the end credits which made me wonder whether the Holocaust was something very present in his own household — his mother is a survivor — while he was growing up?

“Well, my mother never stopped talking about it. She’s now 99 and I visit her every Saturday and still hear only Holocaust stories,” he tells me. “So you can imagine, I’d say in many senses, it was our religion, absolutely. And obviously I wouldn’t have devoted eight years of my life to making this movie, without the origin of my family.”
Was his mother happy with the result? “Yeah, so she’s a Jewish-Polish mother and when I screened the movie, her first reaction before saying she loved the movie, she said, ‘It’s a great movie, but let’s face it, it took you twice the time the Holocaust itself took, just to make it.’”
He too was frustrated about the amount of time it has taken for the film to be finalised. “If I could have rushed things a little, I would have,” he says, sounding both frustrated and relieved.
“It was very tough to raise the financing for the movie and convince distributors that this can be a commercial movie. I signed the contract with the Anne Frank Foundation in 2013 to complete the film by the end of 2017, and we hadn’t even started in 2017 because we didn’t have the money.
“Then we released a graphic Diary in 2018 which was translated into 26 languages and sold over 1.6million copies and I think this convinced distributors to step in.”
In her diary, Anne structures each entry in a form of a letter to her imaginary friend Kitty, a young girl around the same age as her. Folman’s film places the manifestation of the Kitty character in modern day Amsterdam.

There, she attracts worldwide attention by befriending undocumented immigrants and street kids. While some might read into this narrative some sort of wish to make parallels between the Holocaust and the refugee crisis, Folman is adamant that no comparisons should ever be made.

“I don’t see any similarities and I don’t think there’s any parallel in the movie between the Holocaust and the refugee crisis. First, for a very simple reason, those 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered in the camps didn’t have the luck and chance to become refugees, because no one tried to save them. Although we know today, that in London and Washington by 1943, they knew very well about the camps and no one saved them, so they were not lucky to be refugees in Europe, so I don’t see any comparison in the movie and think those who see the parallels, it’s only in their eyes.”

He adds, with passion: “It’s not in my movie so I don’t think there is a way to compare and I don’t think it’s legitimate to compare, so I would never do that.”

Despite it being aimed at very young audiences, I’m impressed that Folman refuses to sanitise the film, especially towards the final chapter, which sees Anne and her family betrayed and then sent to the camps. Folman presents Nazi guards almost like giants looming over her small frame. There is very little ambiguity about Anne and her family’s fate. It is this unambiguously strong image relating to Anne’s fate that sits at the centre of the film.

The importance of teaching younger generations about what happened to Anne after she stopped writing her diary is the single most important thing to come out of Folman’s film and it is precisely this message that he seeks to relay to the younger generation who can’t see beyond the diaries. Was that important for him to get just right? “I think this was the biggest challenge by far,” he agrees.

Despite growing up in Israel, where Anne’s story and her diary were mandatory and part of the school curriculum, Folman admits to having very little recollection of it. “I don’t remember reading it, but I know we did it. When I got the offer I read it again and I was stunned because my daughter was that age.

“And I thought, no way a 13-year-old girl could write so brilliantly. It’s an incredible piece of art. For me, it was important for Anne Frank not to stay in the movie as a symbol, but as a real person, and I think she was a very complex person. She was brilliant, she was a genius writer, she was funny as hell, she was mean, she could see the weaknesses of the people around her and threw those arrows that will destroy them easily because she was so clever.”

Is enough being done globally to keep the memory of the victims alive, I ask.
“I think we’re in the real problem there,” he says, adding. “I saw with the release of the movie and also with Jewish institutions that couldn’t care less about this movie and not only you know, non-Jews.”

He’s clearly disappointed with the lack of support the film had from Jewish organisations and foundations. “I think that once the last survivor will not be with us, we are in danger that the point of view on the story of the Holocaust will be biblical. It will be like if you are reading a chapter in the Bible that says that b’nai Israel were abused somewhere between Moab and I don’t know what.”

Does he understand why some Jewish institutions did not back him? “You should ask them,” he tells me jokingly, adding: “I think they were not interested, also with all the Hollywood organisations where some major decision-takers are Jewish, they couldn’t care less.”

Folman now hopes that his film will get a second life as a teaching tool for school children. “I mean, it will probably be in France already in schools, but here in Israel it’s going to be in schools for sure. We created two books, you know, the Diary and the graphic novel of the film and another education package that The Anne Frank Foundation created for free to any education institute on the planet.”

Despite the arduous journey it took for his film to finally see the light of day, Folman remains positive. He is never more enthusiastic than when talking about his experience working with The Anne Frank Foundation.

“It was amazing, they became my partners and I think they carry the legacy of Otto Frank which is fantastic. They’re great people. Fantastic.”

What does he hope the legacy of his film will be? “I think the most important is Otto Frank’s legacy, and even if there’s no comparison between the Holocaust and the refugees crisis, every year in recent years, 20 million children are on the run from war zones from their home. And children are children, wherever they are, they didn’t choose to be in this situation.

“So whatever you can do, donate, be an activist or just do your small contribution, awareness. I think this is my statement.”

Where is Anne Frank? is in selected cinemas from today

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