Rival Anne Frank Film, TV Projects Spark Furor

Anne Frank Projects - H 2014

Anne Frank Projects - H 2014

“She has become incredibly commercialized,” laments the group that owns rights to her diary as an unauthorized TV miniseries joins two new films.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In 2015, it will have been 70 years since the Nazis murdered Anne Frank, and the anniversary coincides with renewed interest in the Jewish girl and her famed diary chronicling a life in hiding.

At least three major biographical projects on Frank's life are in the works, including two feature films (one live-action, one animated) and a miniseries. But the question of who gets to tell Frank's story -- and how that story will be told -- has ignited a battle in Europe.

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On Jan. 13, German production firms Moovie and Constantin Film, together with public broadcaster ZDF, unveiled plans for a German-language miniseries based on Frank's life. The project immediately was condemned by the Anne Frank Fund, the Swiss foundation that holds rights to Frank's diary and the Frank family archive. The fund accused Constantin and ZDF of violating "all standards of convention, fairness and decency" by going ahead with a Frank project without the fund's participation and accused the producers of "disrespecting the Frank family, which was largely massacred in the Holocaust." It wants ZDF and Constantin to cancel their project, set to begin shooting in the summer, and has threatened legal action if they don't.

"This is not about money for us," Yves Kugelmann, member of the board of the Anne Frank Fund, tells THR, noting that the fund is a nonprofit with proceeds going to education and charitable projects. "This is about Anne Frank's legacy. She has become incredibly commercialized -- Anne Frank has become a brand, separated from the real person and her identity."

Frank's diary, first published by her father, Otto, in 1947 after her death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. The 1959 biopic The Diary of Anne Frank, featuring Millie Perkins as Anne, won three Oscars. A 1980 TV movie starring Melissa Gilbert received three Emmy noms, and the 2001 ABC miniseries Anne Frank: The Whole Story won two Emmys.

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The fund recently gave its blessing to two other Frank projects: an animated take on her life from Waltz With Bashir director Ari Folman and a German-language live-action feature to be written by Fred Breinersdorfer (who penned the Oscar-nominated Sophie Scholl: The Final Days) and directed by Hans Steinbichler (Winter Journey). The fund offered ZDF an opportunity to partner on the German project, says Kugelmann, but the broadcaster said no.

Although producers of the Folman and Breinersdorfer biopics say they will adhere to the facts as recorded in the Anne Frank archive, the TV project intends to link the story to a fictionalized modern narrative. ZDF says it hopes its project will appeal to younger viewers, noting it has the support of the Anne Frank Foundation, a fund rival that runs the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, and Salomon Korn, vp at the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Despite the dustup, ZDF argues that multiple projects about Frank can only help raise awareness of her life and legacy.