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Anne Frank filmmakers hope movie changes attitude towards refugees in Berlinale's premiere

AFP , Wednesday 17 Feb 2016
Anne Frank
Still from the film. (Photo: Courtesy of Berlinale 2016)
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Germany's first feature-length biopic of Anne Frank premiered this week in Berlin, with the film about persecution against the teenage Jewish diarist carrying added meaning as Europe grapples with its biggest post-war refugee crisis.

"Persecution, expulsion, displacement and destruction are issues that we just can't shake off," said Fred Breinersdorfer, who wrote the script for "Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank" (The Diary of Anne Frank).

"If our film about the fate of a persecuted and destroyed Jewish family can contribute to a more positive attitude towards refugees, then we can all be proud," he said about the family, most of whose members died in Nazi concentration camps.

Attitudes are split in Europe over a record refugee influx, with mostly eastern EU nations wanting asylum seekers kept out while others are adopting a more welcoming attitude, including Germany which took in over one million asylum seekers last year.

The film tells the story of the diarist, played by 16-year-old Lea van Acken, and her family, as they are forced to leave Germany to seek refuge in the Netherlands after Hitler's rise in power.

But the Nazis swept into the Netherlands in 1940, and the Franks were finally forced to go into hiding in 1942, when Anne's sister Margot received official notice to report to a work camp.

In her diary, Anne chronicled her life in hiding until August 1944, when her family was betrayed.

Speaking after the premiere during the youth showcase of the Berlin film festival, co-producer Walid Nakschbandi said he hoped the movie would spark a discussion in the current context of Europe's refugee influx.

"If you start today to talk about her fate, about sincerity and ... to speak about the sentence 'He who saves one life, saves the whole world', then, as makers of the film, we would have achieved a lot," he told the mostly teenage audience.

Anne's diary was first published in Dutch in 1947 by her father Otto, the only one in her family who survived.

More than 30 million copies have been sold, and numerous adaptations of the book have been made, including in theatre, television series and film.

But the Anne Frank Fonds, which hold the rights to the written work, said it was time for another major film production.

"We thought it would be really important to have a movie in a contemporary language, and in the German language as well because the family lived 400 years in Germany," said Yves Kugelmann, member of the foundation's board, adding that it gave the crew access to archives containing 100,000 documents, objects and photographs.

Using the material, the film team was able to piece together a picture of the Frank's family life, and director Hans Steinbichler said each scene in the film "had a source".

What was crucial to him was to portray Anne Frank as the girl next door.

"For me it was important to remove Anne Frank from this so-called throne, this sacrosanct status... because that was the only way to carry the message that what was stolen from her was a very normal life," said Steinbichler.

In the adaptation, Anne Frank, cooped up in a secret annex, is in the throes of adolescence. She has fights with her mother and falls in love with Peter van Daan, whose family had joined the Franks as hideaways.

The young actress sought to reread Anne Frank's diary closely in a bid to get into the role, but told Bild daily that she "suddenly felt that it was arrogant of me to try to put myself in her shoes".

"To try to lift this block, I started to write letters to Anne, in which I told her some things about me," said van Acken, who was sporting short hair at the premiere after her long locks were shorn in one of the closing scenes of the film depicting Anne's arrival at the Auschwitz death camp.

The diarist died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen in 1945.

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