“I want to go on living even after my death.” – Anne Frank
If Anne Frank was still alive, she would be entering her tenth decade of life this year. And while Anne never made it out of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, some of the lucky ones did – people like Helga, Andra, Tatiana, Sarah and Arianna.
They were all very young girls in the concentration camps and very old women now. Their bodies are failing them and soon their minds will too. In less than a decade, all we will be left with are their stories and stories of their stories.
So if nothing else, “#AnneFrank- Parallel Stories” deserves to be recognized as the important piece of historical documentation it is. This might be the last time that these witnesses to the Shoah (or Holocaust) tell their stories. And there are certainly worse ways to go out than this teen-friendly introduction to one of the greatest tragedies in human history.
The title, as confusing as it is, actually tells you a lot about Sabina Fedelli and Anna Migotto’s approach to this material. So let’s break it down – starting with that all-important hash tag.
Fedeli and Migotto frame their documentary through a fictional character- a social media-loving teenager who goes by #KaterinaKat (Martina Gatti). Katerina doesn’t have any spoken lines, but she does communicate through social media posts as she learns about Frank and the Holocaust. These posts ask key questions – Who was Frank? What were her dreams? When the end came, did she still have hope?
I found this whole framing device entirely too precious, but I also realize that I am probably not the target audience for it. In #KaterinaKat, the directors have created a surrogate for young teenagers engaging with this story for the first time. If they can’t see themselves in Anne or the Holocaust survivors, they should see themselves in Katerina, which is the next best thing.
There are other young people in the film as well -grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Holocaust survivors talking about what the Shoah means to them and their families after all these years. This is another great entry point for young people who may have a hard time connecting emotionally with an event that seems like ancient history to them.
After that hash tag, we have “Anne Frank” who indeed looms large in this story, mostly through her writings. Large portions of Frank’s diary are read throughout the film, and you’ve got to give Fedelli and Migotto credit for bringing in the big guns- in the form of Academy Award winner Helen Mirren- to read from the diary.
Frank’s diary has always displayed a sort of maturity, a wisdom well beyond what many thirteen-year-olds display. Bringing in the dignified Mirren only amplifies those qualities and reminds us of what a great writer the young Miss Frank was. It’s not quite Shakespeare, but it gets awfully close at times.
The “Parallel Stories” of the title are those of Helga, Andra, Tatiana, Sarah and Arianna. If Frank remains the focus of the film, the directors are wise enough to realize that one person’s story cannot summarize the entire Holocaust. Thus, these other voices are brought in to accentuate the story – just as Anne decorated the walls of her hidden room with pictures of movie stars and athletes.
“Fragments of other people’s lives to give a flair to her own,” Mirren narrates.
One of the survivors recalls meeting Anne. Another recalls the scientific experimentation done on young Jewish twins in the camps. Yet another recalls working as a shepherd at one of the camps.
These reflections are accompanied by archival footage- nothing too grim, but definitely stark enough to show young viewers just why the Holocaust is such a key event in world history.
Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum is brought in to outline the history as is Anne Frank House director Ronald Leopold. But Fidelli and Migotto wisely let the Shoah survivors tell their own stories for the most part.
The production values of the film are a bit stagy and not particularly cinematic. From a quality standpoint, “#AnneFrank- Parallel Stories” (rated TV-14 for language) feels like the sort of documentary that would screen at a high-end museum – It’s educational, informative and kind of clunky.
But as an introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust for young people, “#AnneFrank – Parallel Stories” is downright essential. And while Holocaust scholars won’t learn anything new, they can at least take immense joy in listening to Shoah survivors tell their stories in their own words one last time. I know I did.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.