Anne Frank Remembered: Jon Blair’s Touching Documentary

Surprisingly, Jon Blair’s Anne Frank Remembered is the first-ever eyewitness chronicle of the life and legacy of Anne Frank, the 15-year-old Jewish girl who became a symbol of the numerous children exterminated in the Holocaust.

Combining unique personal testimony, never-before-seen photos, previously undisclosed family letters and rare archival footage, this riveting, often haunting documentary warrants limited theatrical release before being shown on Public TV, Cable and other venues. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of Anne’s death, the film could also be used as an educational tool in schools as a vivid, personal evidence of the Holocaust.

Anne Frank’s diary, first published in 1947, has sold over 25 million copies in over 50 different languages, yet there has never been a comprehensive account of her life. In 1955, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett won a Pulitzer Prize for their Broadway play, The Diary of Anne Frank, which four years later was made into a film by George Stevens. But the Oscar-nominated movie, for which Shelley Winters received her first supporting award, was severely marred by Millie Perkins’ weak performance.

Jon Blair, whose l983 documentary Schindler secured a British Academy Award, should be commended for making a superbly researched stirring film that is as much about the past as about the present. Made in cooperation with the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam (an internationally touristy spot), helmer was granted access to unique archives and was given permission to recreate the place where Anne and her family spent two years in hiding.

The most illuminating sequences of this landmark work, which begins in l925 with the Franks’ marriage in Germany and concludes with Otto’s death in Switzerland in l980, are those dealing with the growing pains of an alert, vivacious girl who wanted to be famous and left her imprint on the world. In l942, at her thirteenth birthday, she was given a diary, which she addressed as a secret, intimate friend and which later became her main source of comfort and support. Evidence is supplied that Anne’s ambition was to publish her diary and that she rewrote and reedited some of the earlier entries toward that goal.

New info about Anne’s “spicy” personality and immense curiosity are revealed by Holocaust survivor Hanneli Goslar, Anne’s close friend from the age of 4, and particularly by Miep Gies, a long-term office employee of Anne’s father, who was one of the main helpers to the families in hiding. Using the same strategy of Claude Lanzmann in Shoah, Blair provides important insights about the day-to-day life in hiding, where Anne experienced her first writing, first awareness of her sexuality–and first love.

In August l944, the residents of the secret annex were betrayed, arrested, and sent to Auschwitz, where they were separated. Ironically, Anne and her older sister Margot died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in early l945, just weeks before the liberation forces arrived.
In a powerful coda, docu retraces Otto’s painful journey at the end of the War, desperately searching for–and fatefully learning of–the tragic deaths of his beloved wife and two daughters. After returning to Holland, Otto devoted the rest of his life to maintaining his daughter’s heritage and propagating her message of tolerance and fight against any form of racism and discrimination.

A Jon Blair Film Company/BBC production. Produced, directed, and written by Jon Blair. Camera (B&W, Color), Barry Ackroyd.
Editor, Karin Steininger.
Music, Carl Davis.
Sound, Robert Edwards.
Associate producer, Wouter Van Der Sluis. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 12, l995. Running time: 122 min.

Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, with diary excerpts read by Glenn Close.