Polish film director Agnieszka Holland was elected President of the European Film Academy (EFA) on December 10, 2020. Holland will replace German Oscar winner and film producer Wim Wenders (b. 1945), who had been the President of EFA for the last 24 years. "The times are challenging, and to save the creative power of independent cinema and the involvement of our audience, we need to use all our experience and imagination," Agnieszka Holland noted after the presidential election.
EFA was established in 1988 by world-renowned Swedish director Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) and 40 other European directors to promote European cinema. Currently, EFA has 3800 members. EFA's Awards, called European Film Awards or Felix Awards are given in 19 categories and are limited to European movies. The seat of EFA is Berlin. Every second year the ceremonies are held in Berlin. In between, they are hosted in another European city. The first winner in the Best Film category was Polish film director Krzysztof Kieślowski (1941- 1996) for his work "A Short Film About Killing.”
Agnieszka Holland was born in Warsaw in 1948. Her grandparents were victims of the Holocaust during WWII. Her mother, Irena Rybczyńska-Holland (b. 1925), was a resistance fighter and participated in the 1944 Warsaw uprising; her father, Henryk Holland (1920-1961), was a Holocaust survivor and an active Communist. In 1967, Agnieszka moved to Czechoslovakia to study at Prague Film Academy (FAMU). While studying in Czechoslovakia, she experienced a so-called Prague Spring – a short period of reform movement within this Communist state. The Prague Spring ended with the Soviet and other Warsaw Pact armies' military invasion. Agnieszka Holland spent several weeks in prison suspected of her contact with the anti-Soviet opposition. After her release, she graduated from FAMU and returned to Poland. In her native country, Holland worked with such renowned filmmakers as Andrzej Wajda (1926-2016) and Krzysztof Zanussi (b. 1939).
Life in exile
In December 1981, when the Polish Communists introduced martial law, Agnieszka Holland was in Sweden. She decided not to return to Poland. Afterward, Holland mainly split her time between Germany and France, until deciding to move to the United States in 1993, where she lived for ten years. Currently, she lives between Poland, France, and the United States.
Agnieszka Holland is a three-time Oscar nominee. In 1985, her movie "Angry Harvest" was shortlisted in the Best Foreign Language Film category. "Angry Harvest" was based on a novel written by American architect Hermann Field and Polish freedom fighter Stanislaw Mierzeński, while the Polish Communist government imprisoned them for political reasons in the 1950s. The movie paints a picture of an unusual relationship between a Polish farmer and a Jewish woman in German-occupied Poland.
A few years later, in 1990, Agnieszka Holland received another Oscar nomination for what is probably her best-known film, "Europa, Europa" (1990). The story was based on Solomon Perel's life (b. 1925), a Jewish teenager of Łódź, Poland. Perel masked his Jewish identity by pretending to be a German and joining the Hitler Youth in order to survive WWII. "Europa, Europa" became an Oscar nominee for the best screenplay and won the 1991 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.
The third Oscar nomination followed in 2011 for her other Holocaust drama titled "In Darkness." This German-Canadian-Polish production was about a Polish man who rescued a group of Jews by hiding them in Lviv's (Lwów’s) sewers during WWII.
Holland has directed many other successful films, including the political drama "To Kill a Priest" (1988) about Roman Catholic priest Jerzy Popiełuszko (1947-1984) murdered by the Polish Communist regime. American audiences might be familiar with her romantic drama, "Washington Square"(1997). The story was based on Henry James' 1880 novel and set in the first part of the 19th century in Manhattan. Another film, “The Secret Garden” (1993), became a critical and commercial success in the United States. Co-directed by Holland, the film was produced by Francis Ford Coppola and distributed by Warner Bros. She is also one of the directors of the Netflix series "House of Cards'" which gained immense popularity in the United States.
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Further reading in Polish: