Dark comedy ‘Anne Frank Gift Shop’ repackages Holocaust icon for Gen Z

In new short satiric film premiering July 25, Anne Frank House museum reps hire a marketing firm to remake diarist’s image in era of ’empathy fatigue’ among young people

Reporter at The Times of Israel

  • 'Anne Frank Gift Shop' (courtesy)
    'Anne Frank Gift Shop' (courtesy)
  • Josh Meyers and Kate Burton in Mickey Rapkin's short film, 'Anne Frank Gift Shop,' released in summer 2023 (courtesy)
    Josh Meyers and Kate Burton in Mickey Rapkin's short film, 'Anne Frank Gift Shop,' released in summer 2023 (courtesy)
  • Anne Frank in her school in Amsterdam. (Public domain)
    Anne Frank in her school in Amsterdam. (Public domain)
  • Cast of 'Anne Frank Gift Shop' (courtesy)
    Cast of 'Anne Frank Gift Shop' (courtesy)

When filmmaker Mickey Rapkin visited the Anne Frank House for the first time 20 years ago, his tour ended on a strange note.

“I was so moved by being there,” Rapkin told The Times of Israel. “It was horrifying and so upsetting. And then you exit through a gift shop. I just remember laughing. It was jarring,” said the screenwriter and journalist.

Rapkin’s new short satiric film, “Anne Frank Gift Shop,” revolves around a pitch meeting with the museum’s staff and members of a highfalutin marketing firm. Actress Kate Burton plays the dark comedy’s museum representative, Ilse, who is concerned about the museum’s online reviews.

Premiering July 25 at the Los Angeles Short Film Festival, “Anne Frank Gift Shop” addresses the challenge of conveying the Holocaust to Generation Z, which is heavily afflicted by “empathy fatigue,” as pointed out in the meeting.

Ideas pitched range from digitally altering Frank’s face  — “The algorithm really prefers a smile” —  to asking visitors outside the museum to help solve the “cold-case with global appeal”: who betrayed the Secret Annex inhabitants in August 1944?

“[We’re just] prototyping solutions, just fast and dirty, no wrong answers, safe space,” says the marketing team leader.

‘Anne Frank Gift Shop’ (courtesy)

A social media influencer tells museum staff, “You’re not solving your problems by selling a 3D puzzle of the annex,” after which she points out the hiding place is “a duplex on the water” that would rent for $7,000 a month in Bushwick.

Burton’s museum head Ilse expresses hesitation about the branding people’s ideas, which include marketing Frank alongside feminist icons Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Katniss Everdeen, as well as putting the Annex cat Moortje on Instagram — until someone points out his name means “little black person.”

“What’s good for the museum is good for the Holocaust,” says Isle’s colleague, Diederik, played by Josh Meyers.

In rapid succession, the Auschwitz museum Twitter account is dubbed “the original thirst trap,” while Miep Gies is referred to as “the first UberEats,” because she delivered groceries to the Secret Annex.

What’s good for the museum is good for the Holocaust

The film is reminiscent of television shows like “The Office,” where eccentric personalities drive the humor. Funded by a grant from Reboot Studios, the dark comedy clocks in at 14 minutes.

“I started with who would be in this room,” Rapkin told GQ magazine. “I wanted the comedy to come from a language that people would understand, that they were used to seeing on a show like ‘Succession’ — a boardroom meeting, or people you’d know in the office,” he said.

Cast of ‘Anne Frank Gift Shop’ (courtesy)

Rapkin elaborated, “Yes, that one has a crush on this one, they would be hungover, and they would bring in an influencer. I wanted their opinions to change over the course of the meeting, and have them present ideas that people might actually suggest.”

When contacted by The Times of Israel, the Anne Frank House spokesperson said the museum was not aware of Rapkin’s film.

‘We all have the same goal’

“Anne Frank Gift Shop” takes an unexpected turn in its final minutes, bringing victims of the Holocaust centerstage.

Filmmaker, journalist and screenwriter Mickey Rapkin (courtesy)

The marketing people, it turns out, have deeper connections to the Holocaust than their branding ideas implied.

For example, the character Ben, played by actor Chris Perfetti, talks about the ravine Babyn Yar, in Kyiv, where 33,771 Jews were murdered in two days. He asks people in the room to think about the “sheer logistics” involved in that massacre and thousands of other “Holocaust by Bullets” killings.

Rapkin called Ben his own “stand-in,” a creative-type looking to cope with the world’s horrors.

“Antisemitism is on the rise in a really frightening way,” Rapkin told The Times of Israel. “When people are afraid and can’t make sense of the world, they try to reason through it with art,” he said.

Calling the constant access to news of tragedy “numbing,” Rapkin said young adults “have access to tragedy 24 hours a day on their phone, and irreverent comedy is a way to reach them.”

Anne Frank is “the way into the story [of the Holocaust] for a lot of people,” said Rapkin, who added the diarist “is really having a moment right now” on television and publishing, as well as streaming services and of course TikTok.

Poster image of Anne Frank with books for sale in the background, Anne Frank House museum bookshop, April 2012 (Matt Lebovic/Times of Israel)

“You have to go where young people are,” said Rapkin. “We all have the same goal,” he said.

Near the film’s end, museum rep Ilse tells the marketing people they must keep thinking of ways to reach adolescents, or they will all face “the cost of doing nothing,” she says.

“We have to tell this story again and again and again, every which way, or it will happen again,” says Ilse.

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