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Julianne Moore on Her Passion for Story, the Power of Empathy

Oscar winner Julianne Moore praised the power of film to promote empathy and warned against the danger of history repeating itself Saturday at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, where she was promoting her latest film, “After the Wedding,” alongside the film’s director, her husband Bart Freundlich, and co-star Billy Crudup.

Moore received the festival’s Crystal Globe for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to World Cinema at the opening ceremony Friday night, where the curtain raised on the festival’s 54th edition with a screening of “Wedding.” Moore and Freundlich will also this week present “The Myth of Fingerprints,” Freundlich’s directorial debut, on which the couple met more than two decades ago.

Speaking at a press conference in the Bohemian spa town’s Hotel Thermal, Moore reflected on the ability of film to bridge physical distances and political divides. She recalled a childhood partly spent in Frankfurt, Germany, where her father was stationed in the U.S. army, and described how the experience was formative to her understanding of life under communism during the Cold War.

“When the Wall came down in 1989, it was a big deal in my family,” she said. Moore returned to Berlin in the 1990s and was “absolutely shocked to see what had actually happened since then, the kind of growth and freedom and modernity that suddenly exploded.”

The actress spoke movingly about commemorations at Friday night’s opening ceremony, on the 30th anniversary of the former Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, which put an end to communist rule. “It’s important to keep reiterating that history so people understand what it was like for people to live in such a regime. It’s easy to forget,” she said. “And I think now, historically, when we are feeling like there’s lots of hostility and lots of unrest, it’s important for us all to remind ourselves of what was very recent history, in order for it not to repeat itself.”

She added: “When you have physical distance, and things that you don’t understand, it’s very hard to have empathy, unless you see it, unless you know it. And one of the ways to learn about it is through film.”

“After the Wedding,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, is a remake of “Bird Box” director Susanne Bier’s Oscar-nominated Danish-language pic. Variety praised the film as “an incredibly rich showcase for the immense talents” of Moore and co-star Michelle Williams.

Freundlich’s English-language version features a distinct twist, with the director flipping the genders of the two main roles. Williams plays an idealistic young American volunteering at an orphanage in India, who has to fly to New York in an effort to secure a generous donation from a wealthy businesswoman, played by Moore. The film plays up the dramatic difference in their lives as the action shuttles from the Third World to the plush confines of New York City, a contrast Freundlich pointed to as indicative of our times.

“I heard someone say that art is important because it builds compassion, because we see ourselves in something that is not ourselves,” he said. “I do think there’s a problem, because I think there’s a lot of fear in the world. I think when we’re fearful, a lot of our worst qualities come out. We tend to protect ourselves and not reach out.”

He continued: “But I’m an optimist and I have a lot of belief in the ability of humanity to reach across borders, to transcend. Hopefully some of that is represented in the film, and in the festival. I think we’re kind of in a low moment, but I believe that there’s a lot of possibility for going forward and up.”

“After the Wedding” marks the fourth collaboration between Moore and Freundlich, and Moore’s first as a producer. “At the beginning of your career, as a young actor, you don’t care what you do, because you just want to have a job. You do whatever’s available,” she said. “You just keep taking one step after another to grow your career.”

She continued: “I’ve always felt that it’s my responsibility to find [great roles], to seek them out, to find the directors I want to work with. Right now, for the first time, I’m starting to develop material for myself.”

Moore expanded on her work as a producer, as she and Freundlich joined Variety film critic Peter Debruge at the Variety Critics Corner at Karlovy Vary, presented by HBO Europe.

“We’re looking everywhere for material. Bart writes original material. I read a lot of literature. I’ve optioned a couple of things, and we’re developing a couple of things. I think it’s whatever piques your interest,” she said. “You don’t know how something is going to strike you, and why it strikes you. You just have to continually look. And then you find it.”

Asked at what point in her career she began to have control over her creative choices, Moore laughed. “How ‘bout never?” she said. “I would like to think that there’s sort of a trajectory that we can all follow, where you’re like, ‘Now it’s okay.’ I don’t know that any of us feels that way. I think particularly when you’re a freelancer, as all of us are, you really just go from job to job. Once a job finishes, you feel like you’re kind of back at zero. Now it’s time to find something else and work on that.”

“A lot of real artists feel that way — they’re always searching for the next thing,” said Freundlich. “There’s a fantasy you’re going to break through and settle into the easy life, but it’s kind of antithetical to creating a live art.”

Moore appeared to marvel at how, after so many years in the industry, the couple “still manage to be engaged and interested.”

“I was one of those kids — I wasn’t athletic, I didn’t have a lot of hobbies. I liked to pretend, and I liked to read. And I didn’t think those two things would lead me anywhere professionally,” she said. “But when I started doing plays after school… I felt like I was inside the book. And I still feel that way when I make a film: I feel like I crawl inside the story.

“I always tell our children, ‘Follow your interests, because you don’t know where they’ll lead you.’ I never imagined that my interest in language and story would lead me to cinema. And it has.”

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