Agnieszka Holland tells graduates about the beauty of blending history and film

Photo/Mike Lovett

An honorary degree is conferred upon Agnieszka Holland at Brandeis' 65th Commencement

History has always informed noted screenwriter and director Agnieszka Holland’s approach to translating past events to the silver screen.

The native of Poland, who was awarded an honorary degree at Brandeis University’s 65th Commencement on May 22, discussed her evolving approach to storytelling during the Department of History’s diploma ceremony.

She has won one Golden Globe, earned three Academy Award nominations and has directed recent hit television series such as “House of Cards,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Wire.”

Holland discussed the lessons she’s learned during her film career in a question-and-answer session with associate professor of history Alice Kelikian, particularly the role of film in preserving history.

“I think the knowledge and consciousness of what the Holocaust was and the will to make it your history came, in part, from popular television series like ‘Holocaust’ and movies like ‘Schindler’s List,’” Holland said, addressing the graduates. “You can change something. You can try to reach people.”

“We still don’t understand and still don’t know how it’s possible something like that could happen,” said Holland. “And, if it happened once, then it could happen again.”

Holland noted that one of her objectives in each of her films was to make the characters and their struggles relevant and meaningful to the audience.

“… I wanted to show human beings who were a part of it (the Holocaust) and to project on them what they thought about the wider problems and the wider questions,” Holland said. “You cannot change the world with movies. You can, however, change the consciousness a little.”

Holland is particularly intrigued by movies’ ability to influence society. She said that she does not believe Barack Obama would have been elected President of the United States if an African American had not been portrayed as the Commander-in-Chief on television before 2008.

Similarly, Holland believes that many advances in LGBQT rights are due, at least in some part, to the presence of LGBQT characters on screen.

“You can infuse some empathy which opens up the eyes to the others. The others can be anyone.”

Categories: General, Humanities and Social Sciences, Student Life

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