If you’ve always wanted to experience the story of Anne Frank in virtual reality, then you’re a little weird. But you’re also about to get exactly what you want because producer Jonah Hirsch and director Danny Abrahms’ new film Anne is exactly that: a virtual reality retelling of Anne Frank’s story that will immerse viewers in her terrifying but true world.
“Anne Frank’s story has kept the memory of the Holocaust alive and promoted tolerance for generations,” said Abrahms in a statement. “We are deeply committed to sharing Anne’s experience using cutting-edge modes of storytelling so that her story can live on and reach as many people in the world as possible.”
In the proposed film version, audience members would be immersed in the world as Anne Frank saw it. Using cutting-edge virtual reality technology, viewers would actually be able to move through her room as though they were there back in 1942. Here is an early rendering of the room in the secret annex where Frank lived for more than two years, courtesy of Hirsch.
Generations of students around the world have grown up reading The Diary of a Young Girl, the Dutch-language diary that Frank kept while she and her family hid during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. First published in 1947, the diary offers a harrowing insight into life during wartime, and the emotional development of a young girl living under unthinkable circumstances. Frank was ultimately arrested—along with the other residents of the annex—and sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she perished from Typhus. However, in the wake of the Holocaust, her story has been taught in classrooms around the world, and her diary has been published in more than sixty languages, making it a cultural touchstone for many when discussing the events of World War II.
While Abrahms is clearly very excited by VR’s storytelling potential, using it to tell the story of Anne Frank seems like an odd choice, especially for something that seems like it could be marketed as entertainment. In fact, many may find this particular choice of subject matter to be in poor taste. The level of immersion one can achieve through VR truly must be seen to be believed, but there’s something about Anne that has the potential to feel exploitative. That is not to say that it is inherently exploitative; I’m sure that the filmmakers have the best of intentions. Rather, it is a delicate tightrope to walk as Hollywood continues to explore VR’s potential and capabilities for larger scale cinematic undertakings. And based on what I saw at this year’s Sundance, virtual reality is poised to become one of the hottest new trends in filmmaking. So, fingers crossed that Anne will be a piece that creates empathy with Frank and her struggle in a way that her words alone could not convey.
With all that said, this actually isn’t the first VR experience designed around Anne Frank. The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam has created a 360-degree, interactive video that allows users to explore the secret annex. The project is meant not only to spread awareness of Frank and what she experienced, but also to allow guests unable to climb the stairs to the attic a way to experience this important piece of history too.
What do you think of a VR retelling of Anne Frank’s story? What else would you like or not like to see in VR? Let us know in the comments below.
Images: AnneFrank.org; Jonah Hirsch