Anne Frank Ambassadors call for an end to prejudice
Composer: Pete Letanka
Poet: Amina Jama
Pianist: Jess Maryon-Davies
Soprano: Nardus Williams
Baritone: Benson Wilson
Bass: William Thomas
Anne Frank Ambassadors: Students from Highfield Academy & Woodside High School
Lighting: Gary James & Chris Savvides
Camera: Alex de Palma & Dominique Piat
Producer: Katherine Wilde
Director/editor: Harry Zundel
"The opportunity to discuss issues around discrimination with young people has the power to unlock doors. I hope that the film we’ve made of the words of these Anne Frank ambassadors will unlock more doors. Once doors are unlocked, people can meet and these meeting points are fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Prejudice rarely survives experience."
The brief was to make a 10 minute film for the Anne Frank Trust, to raise awareness of their work. The Anne Frank Trust aim to empower young people by giving them the knowledge, skills and confidence to challenge all forms of prejudice and discrimination.
Our approach was to involve the charity's Youth Ambassadors (secondary school students from schools in Blackpool and London) in the music and scriptwriting process, by having them engage with passages from the diary of Anne Frank. We partnered with a composer, a poet and English National Opera (ENO) to enable the young people to create their own music and lyrics.
"On the surface, these schools feel very different in terms of geographical location and cultural make-up, yet in both schools, we were impressed and humbled by the passion and bravery of the young people who wanted to stand against prejudice in their schools, local communities and wider society. This is testament to both the spirit of those young people and the incredible work that the Anne Frank Trust team are already doing in these and other schools across the country."
Katherine Wilde, Producer
We collaborated with composer Pete Letanka, a jazz pianist and musical educator, to help develop the compositions and arrange a score. His work ranges from facilitating composition in youth offenders institutes to setting up jazz ensembles with primary school children.
Pete Letanka at his piano over Zoom
We approached young Somali-British poet Amina Jama to develop the student's poetry. Amina started out with the Barbican Young Poets programme and is now a member of the Octavia WOC Poetry Collective. Her writing explores displacement, dual cultural identity and family.
"Working with these ambassadors was such a privilege; it was an opportunity to reinvest in the voices of young people, to provide them with agency and personally learn from their unique outlooks. I hope for the film to inspire a fresh outlook on the power of poetry and music, especially when led by bright, fresh voices."
Pete and Amina ran the writing sessions online and one of the most difficult creative challenges was knowing how to empower the young people to create music and lyrics via videoconferencing. Pete and Amina were amazing at doing this and there was a fantastic response from the participants.
We used photos of the young people's handwritten responses to exercises given to them by Pete and Amina and included these throughout the film. We also transformed a doodle by one student into an animated moment within the film. Amina ran an exercise called 'Where is home?' where she asked the students to get out their phones and enter the location they felt was home on a map (via Padlet.com).
The range of locations that people entered, including Portugal, Jamaica, Mauritius and Turkey, spoke strongly to the themes of unity and connection, so we decided to add it to the film and commissioned Amina to write a poem for this middle section, responding to the idea of home. For the grand finale of the film, we decided to create a digital choir, bringing together people of all backgrounds from all over the country, singing the final refrain “we are all human regardless”.
The main challenge for the project was the pandemic. We produced the film in November 2020 and had to navigate all the challenges of filming with strict Covid guidelines in place. During the final major filming session at the London Coliseum, at the rapid testing site we had established prior to entry, one of the team tested positive for Covid-19. Jess Maryon Davis stepped in as pianist.
Jess is a musical director, pianist and workshop-leader. Her 80-strong all-female pop choir LIPS has performed at major venues and live on the BBC. Jess recently set up a charity called Girls Rock London which aims to build self-esteem and confidence through song-writing.
We ensured that every participant featured in the film, and in a way that they felt comfortable with. Feedback from the schools was extremely positive; the students were incredibly proud of what they had produced. The film really belongs to them as the creatives driving the project. Teachers told us that this gave them a huge boost of confidence.
The Anne Frank Trust raised more than double their target and feedback from donors on the film was overwhelmingly positive, including from those who said “opera isn’t their thing”. The Trust released the film online on Holocaust Memorial Day through social media, sharing its anti-prejudice message and raising the profile of the charity. The Trust have fed back that the film has significantly raised the quality and impact of their youth empowerment projects.
“[This film] shows that we can do something of world class –[it's] a model we will be taking forward in our future projects.”
Tim Robertson, Anne Frank Trust CEO