My Interview with Larry Weinstein, director of “Inside Hana’s Suitcase”

Larry Weinstein, the director of "Inside Hana's Suitcase." Photo by Robyn McCallum

Two weeks ago I wrote about the new documentary “Inside Hana’s Suitcase” which opened at the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13 Street, on April 18.  The story is about Hana Brady, a Jewish girl in Czechoslovakia who was killed in a concentration camp during World War II.  One of the only remaining symbols of her life is her suitcase.  “Inside Hana’s Suitcase” is based on the best selling book “Hana’s Suitcase” by Karen Levine, published in 2002.

I had the opportunity to interview the film’s director Larry Weinstein, a Canadian filmmaker known primarily for films of a very different nature. “I was a filmmaker who, for the last 30 years, only made films about music but some of them are hybrid documentaries with dramatic techniques,” Weinstein told me.  To this end Weinstein used dramatic re-enactments to tell Hana’s story.

Weinstein continued saying, “I knew about “Hana’s Suitcase” a little bit but I really did not want to do a film about the Holocaust.  I just found that the subject would be too dark.  My films take a long time to make and having to be surrounded by darkness really felt like a lot for me.”  However, after reading the book “Hana’s Suitcase,” Weinstein realized that while the story was dark, “It’s about hope and it’s about tolerance and about good things in humanity as well and lessons to be learned.”  Weinstein said that what closed the deal for him was meeting George Brady, Hana’s surviving brother, now in his eighties, and Fumiko Ishioka, the director of the Tokyo Holocuast Museum.  Weinstein explained, “George is such an amazing, wonderful, humane, optimistic person I knew I wanted him to be at the beginning of the film, even though it might be easier, in terms of story, to meet him as a surprise later in the story.”  Weinstein clearly made the right choice.  He also has very high regard for Ishioka.

In 1999 Ishioka visited the concentration camp, Auschwitz.  She was so moved by her direct experience with the site that she requested some sort of artifact to help Japanese children understand the Holocaust.  She was sent a suitcase that had painted on it the words “Hanna Brady, May 16, 1931” (the German spelling of her name has two “n” s) plus “Waisenkind,” the German word for orphan.  While the suitcase was not much to go on, Ishioka began an investigation to discover who Hana was and what happened to her.

Weinstein pointed out that the book is particularly popular in Canada. “It’s now on its 25th printing,” Weinstein explained, adding that, “In Canada most school kids have read it.  It is more popular than ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’”  Weinstein explained that he worked on the screenplay with writer Thomas Wallner.  Weinstein said that since the book was so popular with children, “Thomas and I decided it would be fascinating to see if we could get the children to be omniscient narrators of the film.”

Their plan to use grade school children to narrate Hana’s story became a crucial element that makes “Inside Hana’s Suitcase” stand out among the many Holocaust documentaries, and dramas, that have been made.  Much of Hana’s story is told by modern day grade school children in Japan, Canada and The Czech Republic.  It is clear that  Hana’s story has captured the imaginations of these students.   Most important, they have been exposed to a side of history that they will never forget.  In addition some of the students had the opportunity to meet George Brady, most likely making them the last generation to hear about the Holocaust directly from an actual Holocaust survivor.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on April 22, 2012, in Documentary, New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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