The (Video) Diary of Anne Frank

AMSTERDAM — As a camera wobbles, we glimpse a yellow star sewn onto a girl’s dress: “Jood,” it reads — “Jew.” A group of girls horse around together in an Amsterdam street, giggling. But then we catch sight of some German soldiers. “Anne, put your camera away,” one of the girls says.

It is June 1942, and Anne Frank has just received a camera for her 13th birthday. That’s the fictional premise of “Anne Frank Video Diary,” a new series of short films created for the website of the Anne Frank House museum.

In real life, Anne received a small notebook as a birthday gift. In it, she shared her most intimate reflections on the two years she spent in an Amsterdam attic, hiding from the Nazis during World War II.

But here, Anne is reimagined as a vlogger, sharing video snippets, selfies, and personal revelations about her life in 15 episodes of about five to 10 minutes each, plus seven educational videos for classroom use.

The series was already in the works long before the coronavirus outbreak, but it has been released at a moment when the museum is temporarily shuttered, and when a lot of people have Anne Frank in their thoughts. (Streaming on YouTube, the online series is available in 60 countries, with subtitles in five languages, but not in the United States because of copyright restrictions.)

Some aspects of the story may be even more relevant at a time when quarantine orders are in place around the world, according to the museum’s director, Ronald Leopold, because the present situation affords a small taste of what it means to be immobilized by historical circumstances.

But he was wary of equating too closely the current restrictions, prompted by efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus, with those that affected Anne, whose family was forced to hide to try to escape the genocidal Nazi regime. (Anne and her sister, Margot, died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.)

“It’s obviously very, very different, but for sure it will affect the way people read the diary today,” he said. “The way she describes her daily life in hiding, the relationships she’s building with people around her in a cramped space, and the relationship between mother and daughter, for example, are elements that will be better recognized by today’s readers.”

Anne’s wobbling hand-held camera shows us things that are particularly important to her: the postcards of movie stars, her bed in her shared room, the window from which she can see a bit of sky. It lingers on the teenage boy who also lives in her hiding place, Peter van Pels.

At some moments, Anne, played by Luna Cruz Perez, finds a private corner of the attic and shares her intimate feelings. Awakened by air raid sirens and the sound of planes overhead, she climbs into her dad’s bed and turns on the camera. “It has become more dangerous outside. They are picking up more and more Jews. What if they find us?” she whispers, with tears in her eyes. “The thought really scares me.”

The concept of “Anne Frank Video Diary” was developed by the Dutch production company Every Media, which suggested the idea to the museum about two years ago.

Although there was a script, developed by Natascha van Weezel and Wies Fest, the production team gave Ms. Cruz Perez a wide scope to improvise, “to make it feel as realistic as possible,” said Tim Vloothuis, a co-founder of Every Media.

The target audience for the video diaries was young people around Anne’s age when she was in hiding, from about 11 or 12 to about 17, Mr. Leopold said. “We need to reach out to the story as they understand it,” he added. “We really need to think about new ways to tell this history and against the backdrop of an exploding media landscape.”

Eleven of the 15 episodes have been posted online already, and interest in the video diaries has surged. So far, the series has had more than 2.2 million views on YouTube. The final episode will be posted on May 4.

“The series is a bit of a family thing; people are watching together,” Mr. Leopold said. Many viewers will be able to relate to some of the questions Anne and her family ask themselves, he added: “When will it stop, when will she be able to go back to school again? So many of these thoughts and reflections are bringing the story really, really close to readers in 2020.”

Ms. Cruz Perez, a 13-year-old Dutch-Mexican actress, has been stuck at home since the Dutch government closed schools on March 16, and she said it was disappointing that the production team had not been able hold a real-life premiere.

But, she added, “It’s nice that a lot of people have time now to look at it because they’re sitting inside the whole day.”


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