Your past work -- your writing, filmmaking and television productions --
seem to center around a theme of social and political justice. Where does
your passion for these issues come from?
I was brought up in South Africa, so you have to start from that position.
From a very early age, I was deeply uncomfortable with the system. I felt
this way even at 10 or 11-years-old, so when I was drafted at 16, I took
that opportunity to get out. I was an early draft dodger. I just felt
that what was going on in South Africa was wrong. That awareness stays
with you. There's an old folk song that says "there but for fortune
go you and I." I always have had that feeling -- that underdog could
so easily be me. I developed an early sensitivity to victimization.
In the film, you acknowledge Steven Spielberg. What role has he played
in your work?
Spielberg and I had both had an interest in the story of Oskar Schindler
since 1982. The moment I heard about Schindler from the publicity surrounding
the Thomas Kenneally novel I thought it was something that needed to be
told on film. I remember thinking that even if it was half true, it was
a really good investigation. So I set out to find the real story. In order
to do that I had to obtain the rights, so I headed to Los Angeles. This
was right at the time when the rights to Schindler's List were being
sold to Universal and I learnt later from Spielberg himself that initially
the Studio had been reluctant to see me getting the documentary rights,
but through his intervention they decided to concede. Years later he told
me when we were discussing the making of his and my films about Schindler
that he had reasoned that by letting me make the documentary it would be
a cheap way for Universal to have their research done for them, and he of
course would have access to my film once he came to make his. Naturally,
he didn't realize at that time in 1982 that I would have mine finished
ten years before him. But in a sense, I did end up doing a lot of the
leg work for him. That was my introduction to documenting the Holocaust.
Some of that research was helpful to me during the making of Anne Frank
Remembered. And, really, it was because of "Schindler" that I
was asked to make this film. Finally, Steven's intervention at a critical
point during the financing of "Anne Frank Remembered" really made
the film possible. I was about to despair of ever being able to put enough
of the budget together in time to get it made when in an extraordinary and
unexpected gesture he agreed to help out. The fact is that "Anne Frank
Remembered" would have remained like so many projects, as an unfulfilled,
partially budgeted, idea if he had not stepped in at that moment.
What made you want to tell Anne's story and why did you feel like you
could tell Anne's story?
I think one of the most notable things about my filmmaking is that I do
things very simply; I don't dress them up. The simplicity of Anne
Frank Remembered is my style. It's remarkable how complex it can be
to convey that simplicity, though. The sequences in the annex are absolutely
at the frontier of film technology, but they have the simplest result, the
simplest effect. Anne's story is, in many ways, just good storytelling.
And I feel I have an eye for that.
How did the motion-control camera that you used in the annex and other special filmmaking techniques help you capture Anne's story?
I had a feeling that what I was dealing with were ghosts, that the story
was inhabited with them. Throughout this story, there was the spirit --
in many senses -- of Anne. I had visited the Amsterdam house many years
ago and I remember feeling that there was an incredible essence of her there.
I wanted that feeling on film, but it's much more difficult to achieve.
Things really began to fall into place when we were editing the scenes of
the transit train. We had used an actual World War II locomotive steam
engine that was used to take troops to the Russian front as well as to transport
prisoners to the death camps. It was logistically a nightmare to film this
train. It was in the wrong place and on the wrong tracks with just about
every obstacle in the way of getting it done, not to mention that I quickly
learnt that you can't turn a steam train around like you can an automobile!
But compared, of course, to the experiences of those people who actually
were transported on trains like that all those years ago, my problems counted
for nothing. I think that whatever hassles I had with it were worth it
though, because you really do get a sense from the combination of the eyewitness
testimony and the train itself of what it may have been like being a passenger
to hell in the cattle trucks, which were used to take the Frank family and
so many million others to their deaths during World War II.
I felt the same about filming Auschwitz at night. There have been so many
people there before, so many film crews. But by shooting it at night gave
it the look that it actually had when prisoners were transported there.
The Nazis would bring people in at night to disorient them. So I was convinced
that the only way to capture the sense of the ghosts was to do it at night.
There is a lot of information about Anne in the film that may be new to
audiences who have read The Diary of Anne Frank. Did your perception of
her change throughout the making of this film?
I had seen the movie and I'd read the Diary as a child and I think
my perception was like everyone else's. I was aware of her symbolic
role but I was never intimidated by her status as an icon. I really didn't
want to alter that status, I just wanted to de-mystify her. I think in
order to identify with her and to see her extraordinary qualities, you have
to see her ordinary qualities, you have to see the real person.
For most people what we have known about Anne Frank's life came from
her Diary entries written between the ages of 13 and 15, which of course
stopped when she was arrested. However, it is the perceptions, the viewpoint
of a teenage girl, which have gone into history as being "the story
of Anne Frank." I wonder how many of us would like to be judged by
what we might have written about ourselves, our parents and those around
us when we were that age? It is also that viewpoint which was eventually
adapted and fictionalized for the Broadway play and then the Hollywood movie.
The difference with what I have I done is that I have attempted to view
Anne and the others as historical characters in a story, of which her Diary
is one important source, but the insights and recollections of those people
who knew her then are also used to provide a proper context and perspective
to her story. So, for the first time, hopefully, she comes alive as a three
dimensional character as she really was, not how she imagined or described
herself. Up until now, on film at least, we've only ever known her
adolescent self image. Now the "real" Anne emerges, as a cheeky,
precocious, but enormously talented young woman whose life was cut off in
the most tragic circumstances.
Why did you choose to use Glenn Close to read the passages from Anne's
diary instead of a young girl?
I was brought up with no television. I read a lot of comics and I remember
the shock the first time I saw Charles M. Schulz' "Charlie Brown"
on television. The characters, voices, accents and turns of phrase I had
given these characters in my mind were all mine. To hear these American
kids as the voices of these characters meant that they weren't mine
anymore, I lost them. I had seen another Anne Frank film where a young
Canadian girl had read passages from her diary and it ruined it for me.
The one thing I didn't want to do was create Anne as a suburban girl
from "anytown." I was adamant about having an adult voice. I
wanted to leave enough space for the audience to feel it was still their
Anne. Glenn's voice is so easy to listen to and so rich -- it gives
the audience all the emotional space they need to summon up their own image
What do you hope audiences will gain by seeing "Anne Frank Remembered"?
I hope that by illuminating every bit of the story of one life in microscopic
detail, people will think of all those millions of people whose stories
will never be told or known. At the same time this is not just a tale of
those who died in the Holocaust, the six million Jews who were murdered
because of anti-Semitism, but it is also about the victims of discrimination
wherever and whenever that occurs worldwide. I hope it can show the complete
insanity of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination in any shape or form.
And if a few people go to see this story and can hold up a mirror to themselves
and think just a little about these issues, that would be great.
The message of this film, in my mind, is the same as Otto Frank's.
Otto was adamant that Anne's diary had a universal message. He felt
that it should not just be specific to the Jewish experience of the Holocaust.
There are many who feel that the Holocaust was a uniquely Jewish experience
and that Anne's story should be about the genocide of the Jews specifically.
I don't agree. From my own lifetime, I've seen genocide and
I've seen what happens when nations even turn against themselves and
I have firmly hooked my flag to Otto's universalist message. He wanted
to perpetuate her writings for those reasons and I'm more than comfortable,
happy in fact, to be a small part of that.
I always in making any film, though, start with the premise of entertainment.
Anne Frank Remembered is hopefully educational, hopefully informative.
But I don't want people to pay money to see it in theaters out of
a sense of duty. It has to be entertainment, first and foremost. I hope,
because of that, the audience gets to know her as well as I have. I'm
very proud of the film.
Last modified 08-Feburary-1996.
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