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The Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Child - Animated by a Child

Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest, an animated short, is about Ms. Ingrid Pitt, a young Jewish girl and Holocaust survivor. When she was 8 years old, Ms. Pitt miraculously escaped the Stutthof concentration camp with her mother, surviving in the forest until the end of the War. I have the great honor to be invited by Beyond the Forest director and producer Mr. Kevin Sean Michaels and two-time Academy Award nominee Mr. Bill Plympton to be the sole animator for this film.

Perry Chen drawing Ingrid Pitt for Beyond the Forest, an animated short film (Photo by Zhu Shen).

The Holocaust ended 65 years ago.  The Holocaust was the murdering of Jews by Adolf Hitler, the savage chancellor of Nazi Germany who murdered Jewish people just because of their different beliefs.  Nearly 6 million Jews were slaughtered in Nazi concentration camps.

Many Holocaust survivors are passing away, and the collective memories about their sufferings and the atrocity may go with them.  There is a danger of losing those first-hand experiences, but a group of filmmakers have found a way to prevent some of those memories from disappearing forever.

Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest, an animated short, is about Ms. Ingrid Pitt, a young Jewish girl and Holocaust survivor.  When she was 8 years old, Ms. Pitt miraculously escaped the Stutthof concentration camp with her mother, surviving in the forest until the end of the War.  Ms. Pitt wanted to be an actress, just like Anne Frank.   She eventually became a movie star, starring in a popular war film called Where Eagles Dare, opposite Clint Eastwood in the 1960’s.  After starring in many movies and writing books about her life experiences, Ms. Pitt is 72 now, living in the UK.

I have the great honor to be invited by Beyond the Forest director and producer Mr. Kevin Sean Michaels and two-time Academy Award nominee Mr. Bill Plympton to be the sole animator for this film.  Mr. Plympton, the acclaimed animation master, won the Cannes Film Festival twice, and is a winner of the Annie Awards for animation…twice!  Mr. Plympton will be doing storyboarding and character design for our film.

I first met Mr. Plympton and Mr. Michaels at Comic-Con in July 2009, where Mr. Plympton’s award-winning animated short The Fan and the Flower, an unusual and powerful love story, was a hit with audience at the San Diego International Children’s Film Festival there.  I was a film critic attending Comic-Con as press and gave Mr. Plympton’s film 5 out of 5 starfish!  Mr. Plympton gave me a postcard of his new animated short Hot Dog and drew a dog on it, and I drew one right next to his that looked just like his drawing.  Mr. Plympton and Mr. Michaels were immediately impressed and we became fast friends.  Though my artistic skills are decent, I have never expected that I would be the animator for this awesome film!  I will be completing over 1,000 drawings to make up the five minute animation.

Bill Plympton's characters designs for Ingrid Pitt.

Perry Chen's sketches of Ingrid Pitt.

Mr. Michaels met Ms. Ingrid Pitt in 2004 in New Jersey at a film event where she was a speaker.  “Reading her autobiography, ‘Darkness Before Dawn’, it seemed like she’d lived ten lifetimes.” said Mr. Michaels, who was inspired to make a film about Pitt’s life and interviewed Pitt at her home in the UK in 2007.   “Ingrid was eight years old when she escaped what was virtually a death sentence.  You, as a ten year old, realize how precious life is.  Through your talent, you can find the common thread that all children, regardless of where they are in the world, should be safe,” Mr. Michaels said to me when I asked why he and Mr. Plympton decided to use me, an inexperienced child, to animate this film.

Mr. Plympton loves to use “twisted” humor in his films, such as Guard Dog and Your Face, both nominated for Oscars.  This film won’t have that kind of humor in it, because it is a serious subject based on a true story.  The drawings will have a realistic style, much like in The Fan and the Flower, which remains my favorite short film of all time.   This is the first time that Mr. Plympton is partnering with a child artist for an animated film.  I will meet Mr. Plympton and Mr. Michaels at Comic-Con again this July in San Diego to work on Beyond the Forest together.

I will also be working with Dr. Jud Newborn (yes, Newborn!), the historical advisor and co-producer of Beyond the Forest.

We must know our past to move on into the future, so I believe it is necessary and important to educate today’s children about the Holocaust so that similar tragedies will not happen in the future.  “There continues to be atrocities in the world as long as there is hate in the world,” remarked Mr. Michaels, “Ingrid’s experience was part of a human experience, a human tragedy.  Beyond the Forest will be a great teaching tool and will raise awareness.”

I think that animation can reach more people, especially young ones.  Mr. Michaels and Dr. Newborn agreed.  “We want to reach as many people as possible using an accessible art form for young people,” said Mr. Michaels.  “It has always been a challenge to tell children about the Holocaust without upsetting them,” said Dr. Newborn, “Many of the photographs and other forms of documentation are frightening and brutal.  However, Beyond the Forest will use the innovative medium of animation instead.”  

Dr. Newborn became interested in the history of the Holocaust when he found out as a 5-year-old boy that his grandmother’s family was killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.  “It was the children I noticed the most in photographs or movie clips of the Holocaust because I identified with them as a child.  Someday, I promised myself, I would do whatever I could to help ensure that no children of any background should ever have to suffer this way again,” said Dr. Newborn.

Ms. Ingrid Pitt was sick during much of her Holocaust years.  To this day her health suffers because of the hardship of her early years.  “I didn’t have any fanciful bolt-holes,” she said.  However, Pitt is still hopeful about the future.  “I hope to live long enough to go to my granddaughter’s wedding.”  

I sure hope that Ms. Ingrid Pitt can see her granddaughter’s wedding.  Beyond the Forest will premiere in 2011 and be shown at various film festivals.  Ms. Pitt can see her own tragedy and triumph played on the big screen a lot sooner!

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Perry S. Chen is a 10-year-old award-winning film critic & artist, TV/radio personality, Annie Awards for Animation presenter, filmmaker and animator.  He started writing movie reviews using his unique kids-friendly starfish rating system on his website (www.perryspreviews.com ) as an 8-year-old third grader at San Diego’s Torrey Hills Elementary School from the Del Mar Union School District.  Perry became a national sensation when he debuted on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric in May 2009 as the youngest film critic in the country.  He was featured on National Public Radio (NPR) with host Liane Hansen in March 2010, and has reviewed over 30 movies and DVDs on a multi-media platform: TV, radio, print, and web.  He is the youngest member of the Asian American Journalist Association, the San Diego Press Club, the youngest blogger on Animation World Network, and the youngest honoree of Cox Communication Channel 4’s annul Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

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