Seventy Years After Anne Frank Arrest, Arabic Documentary in Works With Israel-Gaza Footage

12:21 PM PST 08/04/2014 by Nick Holdsworth
Anne Frank

Croatian director Jakov Sedlar's "What Does Anne Frank Mean Today?" weaves scenes from Frank's diary with conversations with ordinary Palestinian youngsters.

Seventy years after Anne Frank and her family were discovered and arrested by the Nazis at their hiding place in an Amsterdam townhouse, Frank's story is set to be told in Arabic for the first time.

Frank was 15 when she arrested Aug. 4, 1944. She did not live to see her 16th birthday, dying of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Mach the following year, just weeks before its liberation by advancing British and Canadian troops.

Now a new documentary, using six young Palestinian actresses to portray Frank between the ages of 12 and 14, is being produced to help bring her story to Arab audiences.

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The film, What Does Anne Frank Mean Today?, directed by acclaimed Croatian filmmaker Jakov Sedlar and his son Dominik, includes footage of the Israel-Gaza conflict from recent weeks.

Sedlar — who has directed more than 60 documentaries and eight features, including Syndrome Jerusalem, a docudrama starring Martin Sheen, Macaulay Culkin and Charlotte Rampling that won the first Peace Prize Award at the Venice film festival in 2004 — says a delay in filming when one of the young actresses in Gaza went down with a fever pushed the schedule back to coincide with the beginning of the latest conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamic military organization Hamas.

"Although the closest I got to Gaza was three kilometers, our Palestinian crew were in the city filming between bombardments. The last few scenes in the film include some real footage from the violence," Sedlar told The Hollywood Reporter.

Inspired by an idea from Israeli theater producer Jaacov Agmon, who has long wanted to produce an Arab version of The Diary of Anne Frank at the Arab Hebew Theater he founded in Jaffa, Israel, Sedlar's documentary is designed to "open eyes and minds."

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By combining drama and documentary — the film opens and closes with scenes from an Albanian-language production of The Diary of Anne Frank in Kosovo — Sedlar hopes to contribute to understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.

"Maybe we can open eyes for somebody," he says.

"Art cannot change the whole world, but we can help to understand it a bit more. The fact that we are doing this film in Arabic means we hope that we can do a bit to show how we must not repeat history."

The film weaves scenes from the diary Anne Frank kept while hiding in Amsterdam from 1942-44 with conversations with ordinary Palestinian youngsters.

"One girl asked why, in the midst of the Israeli bombardment, governments are so crazy, spending millions on a daily basis for war, rather than for the arts, medicine or on poor people," Sedlar said.

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There also are scenes shot in classrooms in Gaza and Ramallah in which "the kids talk about love, their first kiss and all those subjects Anne Frank addressed in her diary."

The film has a score by world-renowned pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim and includes an interview with Schindler's List producer Branko Lustig, who reveals that, at age 12, he was imprisoned just 150 meters from the Bergen-Belsen barracks where Anne Frank died.

Sedlar, who expects to finish postproduction by the end of September, is looking for a distributor, but says he dreams of holding the film's premiere in Tehran, where its relevance to the wider Islamic world would be highlighted.

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