European directors defend refugee drama 'The Green Border' over Polish political backlash

European directors support refugee drama 'The Green Border' in face of Polish political backlash and hate speech campaign
European directors support refugee drama 'The Green Border' in face of Polish political backlash and hate speech campaign Copyright Venice Film Festival
By David Mouriquand
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Following public attacks from the Polish Justice Minister, who labelled Agnieszka Holland’s Venice-winner 'The Green Border' "Nazi propaganda," the Federation of European Screen Directors has joined several European filmmakers in supporting the refugee drama.

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One of the standouts at this year's Venice Film Festival was Agnieszka Holland’s new film Zielonca Granica (The Green Border), an emotionally devastating wake-up call for EU nations and their inaction with regards to the horrors on the edge of Europe.  

The Polish filmmaker dramatizes the plight of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East, who are lured to the Belarusian-Polish border by Belarusian government propaganda promising safe passage into the European Union. Instead, they find themselves trapped in a hellish to-and-fro overseen by both the Belarusian and Polish governments, cast as geopolitical pawns in a rigged game orchestrated by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. (Read our full review.)

The film was tipped to win Venice’s top prize but instead went home with the Special Jury Prize. Not that that was the controversy surrounding the film on the Lido this year.

Members of Poland's far-right government attacked the movie without having seen it, comparing it to "Nazi propaganda."

Stanisław Żaryn, the government plenipotentiary for the security of the Polish information space, accused the director of being “out of touch with reality” and making “insinuations that are used to attack Poland, Poles and the government”.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro lashed out at Holland online, comparing the movie, and its depiction of Polish border guards, to “Nazi propaganda.”

“In the Third Reich, the Germans produced propaganda films showing Poles as bandits and murderers. Today they have Agnieszka Holland for that,” Ziobro wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter).

Holland noted that Ziobro, who serves as prosecutor general as well as justice minster, commented on her film without having seen it and that she believed his words amounted to defamation, calling them “despicable.” The filmmaker, who has previosuly addressed the plight of Jews in the Holocaust in her films Europa, Europa (1990) and the Oscar-nominated In Darkness (2011), has demanded an apology from Ziobro. Holland stated she plans to bring defamation charges against him. She also demanded that he make a charitable donation of 50,000 Polish zlotys (approx. €10,800) to an association that helps Holocaust survivors.

Venice Film Festival
Still from 'The Green Border'Venice Film Festival

The migrant crisis along the Poland-Belarus border remains a highly contentious issue, and the Polish government’s comments have been accompanied by a wave of hateful online comments, including antisemitic hate speech calling on Holland to be expelled from Poland. 

One of the most popular film website in Poland, Filmweb, was flooded with thousands of negative ratings – even before the release of the film. The site later announced it had blocked comments.

Sales agent Jean-Christophe Simon at Films Boutique announced this week that his company had also been forced to disable the comments on social media pages promoting the film after they were targeted by right-wing groups.

One of the expectations of European cinema, of which she is an outstanding representative, is to look criticality and closely at human stories, instead of looking away.
European Film Academy (EFA)

In the wake of these attacks, the Federation of European Screen Directors (FERA) has now joined several European filmmakers coming out in support of Agnieszka Holland.

In an open letter, FERA said it was “full of admiration” for Holland for her “strength and courage in the face of the appalling attacks against her and the film in Poland. We stand squarely behind Agnieszka.”

The group, founded in 1980 and which represents more than 20,000 European film and TV directors, said Ziobro made his remarks “without watching the film, making such comments is not only slanderous and unfounded but cloaked in the trappings of a government minister his words become an insidious form of propaganda.”

The Federation said its members “fully endorse” the European Film Academy (EFA), which last week condemned Zibro’s comments and praised Holland for “speaking out against injustice and oppression.”

Gian Mattia D'Alberto/LaPresse via AP
Agnieszka Holland poses with the 'Special Jury Prize' award for 'Zielona Granica' after the closing ceremony for the 80th edition of the Venice Film FestivalGian Mattia D'Alberto/LaPresse via AP

The EFA also issued a strong statement of support Agnieszka Holland: “We are stunned by the current personal hostility and threats from the Polish Minister of Justice, Mr Zbigniew Ziobro, against the President of the European Film Academy, the highly acclaimed filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, at a high political level because of her film Zielonca Granica (The Green Border).”

The EFA statement went on to say: “Agnieszka Holland was compared to the propagandists of the Third Reich by the Minister, even though the filmmaker is the daughter of a liaison officer of the Warsaw Uprising and the granddaughter of victims of the Holocaust.”

“One of the expectations of European cinema, of which she is an outstanding representative, is to look criticality and closely at human stories, instead of looking away. Agnieszka Holland’s films are characterised by a deep humanity and respect, and she therefore deserves to be treated respectfully and humanely. It is a characteristic of significant art when cinema provokes different opinions and attitudes, when it creates the need to discuss the topics presented on a social and private level, in politics, in the media, and when speaking with family and friends.”

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The EFA, as well as Poland’s Women in Film Association, demanded an immediate end to the hostility and threats against Holland.

Mike Downey, the chair of the EFA, and a producer on The Green Border, said the support of the Federation and other international organizations “is of huge importance in the defence of Agnieszka Holland during these highly aggressive times.”

Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP
Agnieszka Holland gestures peace signs for the premiere of the film 'Green Border' in VeniceVianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

Despite the political backlash and wave of vitriolic comments, The Green Border has maintained its release date in Poland, planned for Friday 22 September.

The date is significant because 22 September is also the day that Poland is due to announce which film it will submit for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards.

It remains to be seen whether Holland’s powerful indictment of a continuing crisis will prove too controversial for Poland to select it for next year’s Oscars. Watch this space...

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The Green Border has sold widely internationally to France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Greece, Israel, MENA, Ukraine, Czech Republic/Slovakia, and Japan. The film made its North American premiere in Toronto last week, and is still in negotiations for a release in the US and in English-speaking territories.

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