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2024 Oscars Controversy
The Oscar committee in Poland has chosen “The Present,” a brilliant animated literary adaptation directed by DC and Hugh Welchman, as the country’s entry for the Best International Feature category at the 2024 Oscars. The film stars Agnieszka Holland (known for “Europa Europa” and “In Darkness”).
The decision was announced by the committee on Monday afternoon in Warsaw, following a strong backlash from the Polish government after a solid attack on “The Green Border,” which the Justice Minister and the President criticized for its portrayal, comparing it to “Nazi propaganda.” This crisis coincides with a refugee crisis on Poland’s border with Belarus.
The head of Poland’s Oscar committee, producer Ewa Puszczańska, whose credits include the Oscar-winning “Ida” and Oscar-nominated “Cold War,” and Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest,” the UK’s entry for the 2024 Best International Feature race, stated that this year’s deliberation was “tough and heated,” with the final decision coming in at 4:2 votes, although they did not mention Holland’s film by name.
Other members of the committee included Radosław Śmigulski, director of the Polish Film Institute, Corpus Christi producer Anita Hikinbotham, scriptwriter Eva Piaszczyńska, Oscar-winning set designer Allan Starski (“Schindler’s List”), and two-time Oscar-nominated Małgorzata Szumowska, who produced 2020 live-action short nominee “The Dress” and 2015 Best Documentary Short Subject nominee “Joanna.”
“The Present,” funded by the Polish Film Institute, premiered this year at the Toronto Film Festival as a special presentation. It is an adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning Polish author Władysław Reymont’s novel, telling a story in a folkloric style set in a 19th-century rural Polish village, where a group of Star-Crossed lovers navigate their way. The film was shot in the same captivating hand-painted style as “Loving Vincent” and was described as “a visually stunning triumph” by The Hollywood Reporter in their review.
Regarding the choice of “The Present,” Puszczaska stated that the husband-and-wife directors “crafted another magnificent, impactful animated feature that not only continues the success of ‘Loving Vincent’ but also pushes the envelope further in the world of animation.” The committee thinks “The Present” demonstrates a novel animation dynamic in which the camera participates more actively than only as a spectator.
Puszczańska also shed light on the film’s exploration of “critical and contemporary issues,” including “violence against women… sexual violence, and aggression,” making it a story that will resonate worldwide, transcending borders and political divides.
In Poland, “The Green Border,” if anything, has exacerbated political divisions. The film, which premiered in Venice – where it won a special jury prize – and in Toronto, is a fictionalized portrayal of real-life events on the Polish-Belarusian border, where refugees, mainly from Northern Africa and the Middle East, are trapped in treacherous, perilous forests, starving to death, caught between the two countries. They were enticed by Belarusian propaganda promising easy entry into the European Union, and when the Polish government closed the border, they became stranded.
Prior to the film’s debut, Poland’s right-wing government began to criticize “The Green Border,” with Zbigniew Ziobro, Poland’s minister of justice, claiming that the movie’s portrayal of Polish border guards was “Nazi propaganda.” Polish President Andrzej Duda requested a boycott of the movie during a TV appearance. Just last Friday, ahead of the theatrical release in Poland, Polish Interior Minister Blażej Pobożny announced that a government-produced video debunking the portrayal of events in “The Green Border” would be shown before every screening of the film.
Polish viewers, however, don’t appear to have been affected by this. According to local distributor Kino Świat, 137,000 people came to see the film in its first weekend, a record for any film in the territory in a local language so far.
As for the Oscars, when asked about the prospects for “The Green Border,” Holland expressed uncertainty about whether her production would need to launch a campaign for a free Academy Award academy screening in English-speaking territories like the United States. “The Green Border” has sold widely but has yet to secure a deal for English-speaking territories