The documentary film, Anne Frank: Then and Now, was screened at a provincial theater full of film students and their professors. It didn’t have the approval of the authorities, and out of concern for the Iranians who risked imprisonment – or worse – for showing and attending the film, the names of those involved and the city where it was screened will not be disclosed. But Deadline has obtained photos of the theater verifying the authenticity of the event.
“Before the start of the screening, I did an introduction with an explanation about Anne Frank and the Holocaust,” the film’s Croatian director, Jakov Sedlar, told Deadline. “After the screening, I had a one-hour conversation with the audience. Those students never ever heard about Anne Frank; just two young people knew something about the Holocaust.
“We spoke a lot about the influence of art in today’s world,” he said. “At the end, one of students told me: ‘Thanks for teaching us about something new.’”
The film focus on the lives of eight young Palestinian girls and two Israelis as they try out for the role of Anne Frank. Shot in Arabic with English subtitles, it was meant to bring the story of the young Jewish World War II diarist to the Arab world, where many still believe the Holocaust never happened. But while it was filming, the 2014 Israel-Gaza War broke out, which was captured vividly as one of the young actresses takes her mark in front of a destroyed building in Gaza. As she speaks her lines, two men in gas masks run behind her, in and out of frame, darting for cover. It’s not in the script, but it couldn’t have been scripted any better to illustrate the irony of making a movie about peace in the midst of war. Watch a trailer below.
After the screening, Sedlar said he asked the students for a favor. “Tell your friends about Anne Frank,” he told them. “Try to find details of her life; try to learn something about the Holocaust.”
That kind of research isn’t easy in Iran, where there is no access to Google and where Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are regularly blocked by the authorities.
“After the screening, the director of this place and two students invited me for coffee,” Sedlar said. “They told me, ‘We are happy to have better relations with the USA; we like everything that comes from there.’ I didn’t take picture of them because of security reasons for them.”
Those security concerns are real. Filmmakers there have been arrested for making “propaganda against the state.” How the authorities would deal with those involved in the unapproved screening of a movie about Anne Frank is unclear. “This story will never get the green light from them,” Sedlar said.
In 2014, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said, “No one in European countries dares to speak about the Holocaust, while it is not clear whether the core of this matter is reality or not. Even if it is reality, it is not clear how it happened.”
Iran’s last president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called the Holocaust a “myth” and called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”
According to the U.S. State Department’s latest report on human rights, the government of Iran“maintained controls on cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits, and censored those deemed to transgress Islamic values.”
“For this guy who organized the screening, it was not an easy and simple thing,” Sedlar said. “Basically, it was an illegal screening.”