The secret package

Already well-known as Canada’s most successful director of films onmusical subjects, Larry Weinstein makes his theatricaldocumentary debut with Inside Hana’s Suitcase.

Already well-known as Canada’s most successful director of films on musical subjects — including the Oscar-nominated Making Overtures, The Story of a Community Orchestra — Larry Weinstein makes his theatrical documentary debut with Inside Hana’s Suitcase.

The film, which screened earlier this year at the Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival, uses Karen Levine’s bestselling book Hana’s Suitcase — about the efforts of Japanese schoolteacher, Fumiko Ishioka, to unravel the story of Hana Brady, a young Czech girl who died at Auschwitz — as a jumping off point for a sophisticated mediation on the relationship between private and public history.

“It’s much more powerful when you get to know a person than to just hear numbers like ‘six million,’” says Weinstein, who initiated the project shortly after Levine’s book was published in 2002 but tried to keep the film distinct from its source material.

“I think that to view (such an event) through the prism of an individual story like Hana’s makes it easier, especially for children.”

This is not to say that Inside Hana’s Suitcase is an easy film to digest. Besides the raw emotion that comes with seeing Hana’s brother George talk about losing his parents and his sister, there’s also the matter of Weinstein’s esthetics, which blend deliberately artificial sequences set in the 1930s with subtler re-creations of Ishioka’s investigation in 2000: techniques that feel all the more appropriate after a final revelation about the eponymous luggage. “The feeling was that there could be a certain level of artifice in the film,” explains Weinstein, whose previous films have been marked by similar formal gamesmanship. “But the important thing was that Hana was real.”

“I was thinking,” he continues, “that the 25 years of filmmaking that I’ve done have all pointed towards (this film). Because the message in it is so important, and making it is such a big responsibility. So I told George (Brady) that. He said ‘well, imagine if you had 50 years under your belt.’ I laughed and said ‘yes, in that case, the film would actually be good.’”

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