Where’s Anne Frank! : 6 photos from the animated film with commentary by director Ari Folman

Three feature films in thirteen years is very little for a filmmaker who made an impression as Ari Folman did thanks to Waltz with Bachir in 2008. But it is the price to pay for his ambitious and sometimes out of the ordinary, can see the light of day.

Eight years after Le Congrès, the Israeli filmmaker returned to the Cannes Film Festival to present Where is Anne Frank !, an animated film loosely based on the famous newspaper. The opportunity for him to draw a parallel with the present, thanks to this story to which his family is linked.

AlloCiné: When you presented the film at the Cannes Film Festival, you said you were linked to the story of Anne Frank because your parents were deported the same day as her family. When did you start to think about making a movie?
Ari Folman : It wasn’t my idea. I was approached by the Anne Frank Foundation in Basel and family representatives told me that they had identified me several years before, after Waltz with Bachir, to tell this story in an animated film. But I didn’t want to do it.

I thought everything had been said and done about her before, and that it wasn’t for me. But, little by little, I let myself be convinced and I accepted on three conditions: that the film is aimed at young children, aged 10 years. Then Anne Frank is also an icon because no one knows what happened to her between the day of her capture and the day of her death. This seven-month period has never been told, including in the movie set in 1959.

The last act was supposed to take place in Bergen-Belsen but Otto Frank, his father, had it cut after seeing the test screenings, telling the producers that if it stayed in the movie, no one would come to see it because it was too rough. So I wanted to tell this story. And the third condition was to link past and present. Not to make comparisons, but to show how we can instill compassion in children in today’s war zones.

How long did it take for the movie to come to fruition?
Eight years.

And when did the film take the form we know today, in this perspective of mixing past and present?
The first version of the script didn’t talk about the refugee crisis – because I wrote it in 2014 – and the last act was totally different: it was then influenced by a story I had heard in Bosnia. Then, when we had already started working on the film, we faced funding problems, which caused a lot of delay. And it was during that time that the refugee crisis started in Europe, so I rewrote the last act again with the part about Ava, and depending on how things were going.

Animation is a great tool for making art with very difficult subjects

So that’s why your movie looks like a warning. A way of telling the world population that there may be other Anne Franks in the world whose existence we do not know because we have almost forgotten the real one.
Exactly ! And in the original storyline, there was a competition to determine who was going to be the next Anne Frank in the war zones. But it was too hard, too cynical, and I’m glad it came out of the movie.

Have you set any limits for the subject you are discussing in the film?
The hardest thing for me, as a director, has been the concentration camps. How to show them so that it works with children, to symbolize the truth rather than compete with it. Because you can’t do it and show how it really was, because nobody can really figure it out.

Coming to understand this and draw a parallel with Greek mythology, took me a long time. And I think my limits shouldn’t be weak. Be in the symbolism while respecting the dignity of history. Not just in the script, it also had to be visualized correctly.

I imagine it was obvious to you from the start that you would make an animated film out of it?

Do you think animation is more powerful for talking about such tough topics? In the same way that the metaphor can have more impact than a more frontal, documentary approach.
Yes and I have learned it during my career. From Waltz with Bachir, when I made the decision to make an animated film – if I hadn’t done it, we wouldn’t be face to face today, that’s for sure. When I did it at the time, I didn’t know all the implications. Today the film is used in a therapeutic process for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.

We show them the movie and they talk about their feelings, and it couldn’t have been done if it wasn’t for the animation. No flesh-and-blood actor could have triggered the same emotional process in them, as the animation creates a filter that you can identify with, that you can connect with the characters. What real-world shots don’t, so animation is a great tool for making art with very difficult subjects.


Ari Folman

The style here is very different from that of “Waltz with Bachir” or “The Congress”. What led you to this visual look?
The obsession with making a great animated film (laughs) The design is more stylized and less realistic, but you couldn’t go too far in that direction because Anne Frank is an icon and everyone knows what she looked like. So you can’t reinvent it. But we’ve put a lot of effort into the design and appearance of the characters, so that the animation is as perfect as possible. This is also why it took so much time and money.

How did you select the chapters from “Diary of Anne Frank” that you wanted to transpose into animation in the film?
The selection was made when we designed the graphic novel [en 2017]. At that point, I knew I couldn’t translate the entire original book into a comic book. It would never work. So I set a rule for myself: thirty pages of the diary should occupy ten in the comic strip. So the selection was already made when we made the movie, and I don’t think there was anything that wasn’t in the graphic novel.

I was not expected to make one. It was never part of the deal. I just developed the movie and since we had spent a lot of money on development and couldn’t increase the budget, we figured we had the designs so why not make a comic book out of it. . And if it worked, it could convince distributors to invest in the film. Because no one believed me capable of making an animated film for children on this subject.

So we made the book. Which has been translated into six languages ​​and sold 1.5 million copies. And the distributors realized that I was right. So they invested in the film. But without the graphic novel, we couldn’t have done it. No one would have believed it.

And now the film is released in theaters, with real educational support.
Yes, each distributor of the film – including Le Pacte en France – received, free of charge, thanks to the family of Anne Frank, the first version of the graphic novel. And there’s a second in store, which tells the story of the film. There will be two other books for teachers on the subject: one for them, one for the students. It is enough to contact the Ministry of Education, but everything is done for children all over the world. And I know that it will be done in France, which is a cultural country.

Anne Frank was not an icon, we made her an icon

Why did you choose this title, and in particular its exclamation point at the end?
It is not me. I had chosen “Where’s Anne Frank”, without question mark. And that’s how it will come out in my country. I was afraid that with a question mark, trying to imagine what the film would be like, there might be this idea of ​​children looking for Anne Frank with flashlights, under a carpet in an attic in Amsterdam.

With an exclamation mark it is an assertion: where is Anne Frank today, as societies collapse and refugees are turned away by countries that send them home? It’s like a cry from the heart. And it is an idea of ​​the French distributor to put this exclamation point.

For me this title also agrees with the way in which you question the icons and their meaning.
Absoutely. This choice which was made in France is very strong I find.

And that extends what you said, with the actors, in “The Congress”. Which is still relevant today when there is talk of resuscitating James Dean in a film.
Over the past few days, I have seen reporters who interviewed me for The Congress eight years ago, without ever having thought about it, because I was too busy with the Holocaust. But I think the machines have lost. In 2013, many journalists told me that I was right and that the actors were going to disappear, replaced by computer-generated images in the next ten years.

“The Congress”, signed Ari Folman in 2013:

And ultimately no. You can’t fund a movie without a flesh-and-blood actor. The technology has been around for a long time, but you can’t make a film without Léa Seydoux or Camille Cottin. You cannot create them with machines. Fortunately for that matter. But what do you think will happen with the way the cinema is transformed, streaming and the poor results of Art & Essay films in France?

It’s a bit worrying because at the box office there is a hit every week but the other movies are struggling. And I fear that the producers will give up what we call the middle films, to favor big machines or very small budgets. And you ?
I think about it all the time, because it’s the first time I’ve done a family movie, and the first time I’ve thought about the audience in every scene. I had never thought of it before. It turns out that I saw all the films in Competition at Cannes this year, after the festival, I saw the response of Art & Essay cinema to streaming.

The year was difficult, and yet you have Titane, Memoria, Drive My Car, Le Genou d’Ahed… Nothing could be intended for streaming. At a pinch of museums, because it was truly pure art. Without forgetting Annette, my favorite by far. But I tell myself that if no one can produce this kind of film on a low budget, this cinema will die. Nobody is going to invest ten million euros in arthouse films that would be in Cannes but that nobody would go to see. So we can be against streaming, very well. But you have to learn to make this cinema with low budgets, otherwise it will not survive. This is the lesson I learned.

Interview by Maximilien Pierrette in Paris on November 23, 2021


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