Monday, February 27, 2017

Agnieszka Holland

Agnieszka Holland, Toronto, Sept. 1995

I IMAGINE IT WILL BE A LONG TIME BEFORE A DIRECTOR HAS BIO LIKE AGNIESZKA HOLLAND'S. Never mind her time spent working as assistant director to Andrej Wajda in Cold War Poland, and the game of artistic cat and mouse that had to be played with governments in communist countries, or the fact that Holland found herself suddenly exiled from her homeland when the political tide suddenly changed and martial law was imposed in December of 1981. Just this Wikipedia passage on her parents contains more history and drama than most of us will live in seven decades:
Holland's mother was Catholic and her father Jewish, but she was not brought up in any religious faith. Her father was a member of the Communist Party of Poland who served in the Red Army during World War II. After the war, he returned to Stalinist Poland and wrote propaganda articles attacking the Polish underground Home Army. His own parents were killed in the Warsaw Ghetto; Holland's mother participated in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising as a member of the Polish resistance movement. Holland's Catholic mother aided several Jews during the Holocaust and received the Righteous Among the Nations medal from the Yad Vashem Institute in Israel.  
Holland was often ill as a child, and spent much of her time writing, drawing and directing short plays with other children. Holland's father died under police interrogation when she was 13 years old. Although official reports labeled his death a suicide, his family and others believe he was murdered by the communist police, by defenestration.
I didn't know any of this when I photographed her at the film festival in 1995. Wikipedia didn't exist and the internet was just a rumour and all I knew was that she was a European director who had begun working in English; her latest film starred David Thewlis and a young actor named Leonardo DiCaprio as French poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud.

Agnieszka Holland, Toronto, Sept. 1995

I shot colour negative as well as black and white, so the shoot was obviously intended to be a NOW cover. I found my sweet spot of light and threw together a little setup with two of the film's posters that had been set up in the room on aluminum easels. I turned the posters around to show the foamcore backing and arranged them behind Holland's chair. I asked her to used the chair to create poses; my favorite is the one above, where she seems to cling to it with a dubious expression.

Agnieszka Holland, Toronto, Sept. 1995

I've never reprinted these shots since I handed them in to Irene at NOW over twenty years ago. Holland, on the other hand, has had an interesting career. She's managed to continue making the sort of serious art house films that were far more numerous when she emerged from Wajda's shadow (Washington Square, The Third Miracle, Copying Beethoven, In Darkness) while also working with quality cable networks like HBO and AMC, directing episodes of The Wire, Treme, The Killing and House of Cards.

Three years ago she even directed a remake of fellow Pole Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby. While many of her peers have found it harder to keep working, Holland seems to have found a niche for herself that promises to add up to an interesting career, though in retrospect her momentum looks like it began before she was even born, in a hellish cauldron of history.

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