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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 of Anne.

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.

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Last modified 08-Feburary-1996.
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