Turned down by the famous Lodz film school because of her Jewish surname, at seventeen Agnieszka Holland (b. 1948, Warsaw) made her way to film school in Prague, where she was exposed to the work of Milos Forman, Ivan Passer, and other figures of the Czech New Wave. She was arrested for political activities resulting from the Prague Spring of 1968 and served a brief prison stint. In 1971, she returned to Poland, where she worked with such prominent Polish filmmakers as Krzysztof Zanussi and Andrzej Wajda. She was soon invited to join Wajda’s film unit, beginning a close collaboration. Since leaving Poland amid the political upheaval of 1981, Holland has become a true citizen of the world, giving her a unique perspective on the social and political turmoil of recent times.
Holland’s response to this turmoil—and to her native country’s cataclysmic experiences with Nazism, Communism, and anti-Semitism—is her films. She has suggested that the “making of a film is as exciting as a drug, and without that life would be empty (to us addicts).” She also hopes “foolishly that I will make a magnificent, intelligent, and beautiful film, which will express what no one has expressed.” In pursuit of this goal, Holland has gone from Europe to Nova Scotia and the mean streets of Baltimore; she has tracked German culture from the sublimity of Beethoven to the absurdity of the Hitler Youth; and she has turned the keenest of eyes on Poland, with its many splendors and contradictions. The films in this exhibition demonstrate that Holland’s aspirations toward unique expression are far from foolish. Her courageous willingness to follow her muse everywhere—an existence she considers “the most true human situation, especially for somebody trying to make something in the artistic world”—has made it obvious that her true home is behind the camera.
Organized by Charles Silver, Curator, Department of Film.