Ari Folman wants his ‘Anne Frank’ to inspire and motivate young audiences
Though Ari Folman’s “Where Is Anne Frank” received a 15-minute standing ovation at its Cannes Film Festival premiere, the animated movie wasn’t aimed at the film industry types whose eyes welled with tears in the Palais Des Festivals.
Folman made the story for children.
The animated story gives a voice and a face to Kitty, the imaginary friend of Anne Frank and the nickname of her famous diary, who wakes up in present time in the Amsterdam house where the Frank family hid from the Nazis and where Anne wrote her famous diary.
In an interview at an office near the Palais, Folman explained that he geared the film toward a young audience “so the story would be preserved and told again.” Conjuring Kitty also allowed him to explore the end of Anne Frank’s life.
“The story was never told,” he says. “We know she died, but we don’t know what happened during the last seven months. Anne Frank is more than a Jewish icon. And I think the success of her diary comes from the fact that there is no violence, no cruelty.”
Folman said that including Kitty’s perspective was crucial.
“She is Anne’s alter ego,” he said. “In the book, Anne describes her. She gives instructions of how she should look — everything, her eyes, her lips, her smile. And then we created her.”
The movie goes back and forth between World War II and the present day, enabling Kitty to discover what happened to Anne Frank while understanding that children’s lives are still threatened in other humanitarian crises.
“One out of five children are still in danger,” says the director who is the son of Holocaust survivors. “One out of five! This is not just the past.”
Folman notes that his family shared a similar history with the Franks and the movie reflects some of those sad moments. Like the Frank sisters (whose fate was discovered by their surviving father, Otto), Folman’s mother and aunt were separated at a concentration camp. But his mother survived. (She is now 98 and fulfilled a promised that she would live at least to the day of the premiere of the movie.
Folman hopes “Where Is Anne Frank” will spur a new generation of activists. But he tries to keep his expectations in check.
“Don’t forget, films don’t change the world,” he says. “Leaders change the world. Laws change the world. But if there are 400 people in a theater watching ‘Waltz with Bashir’ and eight of them google ‘Sabra and Shatila,’ I have done my job. If people watch ‘Where is Anne Frank’ and eight of them google ‘refugees and Mali,’ I have done my job. This is the best I can do.”
Karine Cohen-Dicker is a French journalist who lives in New York.