In Berlin with her latest film, Academy Award nominee Agnieszka Holland gave an impassioned defense of a free press and warned that societies must remain vigilant against growing threats to democracy around the world.
At a press conference Sunday to promote “Mr. Jones,” which world premieres Sunday in competition at the Berlin Film Festival, the Polish director said freedom was “overrated” when people “can choose the darkness instead of the light.”
“Freedom is very difficult,” she said. “It means making choices. It means also to be defeated. It means also to make the mistakes.”
“Mr. Jones” is based on the true story of Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, who struggled to bring to light the story of the Ukrainian famine wrought by the brutal policies of Joseph Stalin. The film stars James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard.
Holland called it her “moral duty” to shine a spotlight on what she described as “one of the worst crimes of humanity in the 20th century,” saying she “felt like the ghosts of this crime are just calling for…some kind of justice.”
The director of such acclaimed films as the Nazi-era drama “Europa Europa” admitted that she’d grown reluctant to tell more stories about the atrocities of Europe’s recent past, saying: “It’s too painful, and it’s too costly.”
But with the script for “Mr. Jones,” written by Andrea Chalupa, she found a historical drama that nevertheless felt relevant to the current political moment, insisting: “I believe that we cannot have democracy without free media.”
Norton said he was inspired by the life of Jones, who was murdered under suspicious circumstances on the eve of his 30th birthday, saying he “paid the biggest sacrifice” in his pursuit of the truth.
“Right now, there’s so much conversation about fake news and media and the world of journalism. More than ever, we need to protect journalists,” he said.
“If this film can be a catalyst for that conversation, and hopefully earn the respect required for journalists, and maybe even inspire some young future Gareth Jones to go out there and find the truth, that would be a wonderful thing.”