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The Federation of European Screen Directors has joined the chorus of European filmmakers coming out in support of Polish director Agnieszka Holland, who has faced a backlash from a member of Poland’s right-wing government over her new film, refugee drama The Green Border.
The film dramatizes the situation of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East who were lured to the Belarus-Poland border by propaganda promising easy passage into the European Union. Instead, they became pawns in a geopolitical game when the Polish government shut down the border, leaving them stranded and starving in the swampy, treacherous forests between the two countries. The Green Border premiered in competition at the Venice Film Festival, where it won a special jury prize. The Hollywood Reporter review called the film a “devastating dramatic triumph.”
However, there were few fans within the Polish government, with Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro lashing 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, who has directly addressed the plight of Jews in the Holocaust in two of her best-known films, Europa, Europa (1990) and the Oscar-nominated In Darkness (2011), has demanded Ziobro apologize for his comments and has threatened to bring defamation charges against him. She also demanded that the minister make a charitable donation of 50,000 Polish zlotys ($11,600) to an association that helps Holocaust survivors.
In an open letter Monday, the Federation of European Screen Directors 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, which represents more than 20,000 European film and TV directors, said Ziobro made his remarks “without watching the film, making such comments not only slanderous and unfounded but cloaked in the trappings of a government minister his words become an insidious form of propaganda.” The Venice Film Festival jury, in contrast, “assessed the evidence before making their decision — they watched the film. All of it.”
The Federation said its members “fully endorse” the European Film Academy, which condemned Zibro’s comments and praised Holland for “speaking out against injustice and oppression.” Poland’s Women in Film Association has also publicly condemned Ziobro’s statement and backed Holland.
Mike Downey, the chair of the European Film Academy, 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.” He called for “an immediate end to the hostility and threats against” Holland and praised her “critical engagement with the important issues of our time, as they are visible around us in Europe and in the films made. We strongly believe that culture in every society benefits from this.”
Issues around the film are expected to come to a head this coming weekend when The Green Border will be released in Poland via Kino Swiat.
The Green Border has sold widely internationally but is still in negotiations for a release in the U.S. and in English-speaking territories.