Israeli Actress, Scriptwriter (and former Tamarack Camper), Chen Drachman Reimagines
The Diary of Anne Frank with a Better Ending
For most of us, Anne Frank lives and breathes only in the words and images that have leapt to film and stage from the pages of a Diary of a Young Girl.
Imagine that girl today – an old woman still hiding in the shadows of her own story.
The very idea! What if Anne Frank were still alive?
For Chen Drachman, an Israeli actress, writer and producer working in New York – the notion of Anne Frank as a Holocaust Survivor inspired her to write a screenplay for a short film called Ruth’s. The idea came to her by happenstance after reading a study by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam that included new-found facts about Anne Frank’s death; in one of the media reports of the story, there was a turn of phrase, most likely a grammatical error that implied Anne Frank’s fate was unknown.
That opened the floodgates for Chen, who is a third generation to Holocaust survivors. With dogged persistence since writing the script two and a half years ago, Chen has moved her project closer to production, gaining some traction through workshop readings, film festival submissions and crowd funding.
Fitting its brevity – a mere 10 minutes in performance – Ruth’s depicts the shock of recognition where two generations unlock a long-kept family secret. The screenplay follows a family’s visit to grandmother Ruth’s house on the night of Passover. Later in the evening granddaughter, Lizzy, finds Ruth, watching a news story about recently discovered facts of Anne Frank’s death, and confronts her about something she’d suspected for years: Her grandma is Anne Frank – and that leaves some explaining to do.
As bold as her premise on paper, Chen has launched an equally bold campaign to produce her film. In November 2017, she staged a live reading at the Manhattan JCC in New York City, featuring Tony and Emmy Awards Nominee, Tovah Feldshuh, as the lead.
The screenplay for Ruth’s has been chosen as an official selection/finalist in festivals and grants around the U.S. and abroad including the 2016 NYC Independent Film Festival, the Miami Indie Artist Film Festival, Toronto International Film and Video Awards, the Oaxaca Film Festival in Mexico and the Near Nazareth Film Festival in Israel. Most recently, the script passed the third round of the American Gem Short Script Competition and Literary Festival – a semi-finalist, representing the top 10% of 1309 scripts submitted to the competition.
All of this goes to show that there’s a story begging to be told. With each step, Chen is gaining an audience and coming closer to completing her film.
About Chen Drachman . . . and the Tamarack Connection
From Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Chen, 31, spent her high school years in film and TV studies with a focus on scriptwriting, production and editing. Upon finishing her service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 2007, she attended acting classes and took part in establishing the “IMTC,” the first musical theater company in Israel. With her move to New York City, Chen graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and is now a proud SAG-AFTRA member with a busy schedule of auditioning, writing, filming and producing.
As an actress in New York, Chen has worked hard on her American accent (with rarely a trace of her Israeli inflection); on TV, she has appeared in Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and the series Black Box; in January 2018, Chen returned to her role as Meadow in the third season of The Path, on Hulu, starring Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul.
As fellow Tamarack Campers may recall, Chen was part of the first-ever Israeli Scouts Delegation in 2002. Her recollections of the “American summer of her life” are posted on the Tamarack Nation Blog and are reposted here with permission.
Chen: then and now. . . a Tamarack camper in 2002 . . . an actress today.
In her words
The year was 2002. Some would argue that’s eons ago, some would say “pffft, you’re still young.” [My summer at Tamarack] was a onetime (exciting!) experience. Camp gave me my first glimpse into the wonderful phenomenon that is Jewish summer camp. How else would I understand what’s going on in “Wet, Hot, American Summer?” This was crucial to my growth as someone who works in showbiz.
Tamarack also gave me my first taste of representation. It’s no secret that Israelis don’t have the best image abroad. I’m not even talking politics. I’m talking about how we do the tourist thing, which, sadly, is usually not in a positively-memorable way. So much so that we had to go through a PR seminar before we came to camp.
But getting to tell people about the home that I love, and hopefully leaving a good impression, clearly unleashed the monster because, years later, I went on Birthright (as an Israeli soldier) and met one of my best friends and did a whole lot of explaining and whatnot (it’s okay, she’s a nerd who’s obsessed with history. She was very pleased that I sometimes knew more than our guide.)
Camp also gave me the opportunity of doing a zip line and water skiing for the first time, of jumping into a lake and of walking for a while just to get to Cheder Ochel. It was a great practice for when I moved to NYC. We walk everywhere. I’m no longer intimidated by distances.
I also met the lovely Lori and Daniel Weberman family who were my sponsoring family; Daniel even visited Israel a few years later and we showed him around. And now I’m in NYC, a permanent resident through an application of excellence in the field of production (as our theatrical founding father, Lin-Manuel Miranda say – “Immigrants, we get the job done!”
Q & A with Chen Drachman
myJewishDetroit: How did your summer at Tamarack possibly steer you to theater?
I can’t say that the experience specifically steered me to theater, but, as a member of the Israeli Scouts delegation, I was certainly a performer in the making. I sang in the ceremony my delegation did at camp. I believe there’s a bad hair photo out there as proof. I definitely learned a lot of new songs! And, after all, I did major in musical theater years later, so there you have it! You can say it was my first encounter with American audiences as a performer years before I moved to NYC!
When did you first read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl?
I tried reading it for the first time during elementary school and, like many others, I couldn’t finish it. In all honesty, I felt like I was reading a stranger’s diary, which is exactly what I was doing. Reading it again, as an adult, when I was toying with writing Ruth’s, it just amazed me how abrupt the end was. But that’s the point, isn’t it? You read it, you know how it’s going to end, yet you forget this isn’t a story with a narrative. Anne Frank never got to write the ending to her story. There’s something very chilling about that notion.
But I also like looking at a story from different angles. I was just home in Israel and I bought Ari Folman’s (Waltz with Bashir) Anne Frank, the graphic novel. I heard amazing things about it. It has yet to be translated to English, but I hear that will be soon. Very curious to see his interpretation.
Why the name “Ruth’s?”
I love answering this question and Tovah (Feldshuah) asked it as well. One of the most important points I wanted to instill in this script was the whole “know where you come from” idea, or in other words, your roots. I don’t think Ruth forgets her roots, it’s embedded in who she is, and in her legacy, her children. So, I was trying to figure out how I could name it in a way that used the word roots, or sounded like roots, then it occurred to me, it happens at her house, the story, it happens at Ruth’s. So indeed, the title came before I named her character. But she also sits in the garden when the film starts, dealing with actual roots.
And in the Bible, the book of Ruth tells the story of the woman who left her home and everything she used to know to join Naomi and start over, and she became the mother of the house of David. I thought it was a nice touch. Against all odds.
What’s next for “Ruth’s?” Have you an update on the project?
As always, the crowdfunding is still going. I’m working with a fiscal sponsor, From the Heart productions, a non-profit organization which makes all donations tax deductible. The good thing about working with them is that the crowdfunding campaign has no deadline. It’ll be over once we have all the funds to go into production. Most recently I spoke to the Jerusalem Post while visiting Israel. Ruth’s got to share the culture section with Gal Gadot and Hamilton. Now that’s not something I thought I’d get to see quite so soon!
I’m always on the lookout for people who want to get involved or simply stay in the loop. All the details are on Ruth’s official website.