Veteran Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s Venice Special Jury Prize-winning refugee drama Green Border will release as planned in Poland on September 22 in defiance of a political backlash and wave of online hate talk.
Inspired by real-life events along Poland’s border with Belarus, the film has touched a raw nerve with the ruling right-wing, anti-migrant coalition led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party for its depictions of Polish border guards pushing back and abusing newly arrived refugees.
Public criticism of the film by coalition politicians has been accompanied by a wave of extreme online hate talk against Holland, some of it anti-Semitic, calling on her to be tried for treason or expelled from Poland.
Sales agent Jean-Christophe Simon at Films Boutique announced on Wednesday (September 13) that the company been forced to disable the comments on social media pages promoting the film, after they were targeted by right-wing groups.
“After trying for several days to ‘moderate’ our social networks in a rational and legal manner, we had to close the comments for the first time, following hundreds of hate messages (often anti-Semitic and coordinated) from the Polish extreme right (and probably Russian trolls), fuelled by the shameful remarks of the Polish Minister of Justice,” he said
Last week, Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro (leader of the PiS-aligned Sovereign Poland party) posted on X that Green Border was in a similar vein to a Nazi Germany propaganda film “showing Poles as bandits and murderers”, and then later referred to Holland as Stalinist in a separate address.
Government official Stanisław Żaryn, the Government Plenipotentiary for Information Security of Poland, also since publicly suggested the film was being used by Russia and Belarus to discredit Poland.
The migrant crisis along the Poland-Belarus border is a highly contentious issue.
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko is accused of engineering the crisis since 2021 as an act of “hybrid war”, having encouraged people from the Middle East and Africa to travel to his country on the promise they can easily cross over to Poland and gain access to the entire European Union bloc.
Human rights groups have issued a number of reports sounding the alarm at the Polish practice of pushing migrants back into Belarus.
According to a report earlier this year by asylum seeker NGO Grupa Granica at least 37 people been found dead on both sides of the border since 2021, mainly due to hypothermia and drowning, and another 300 people have gone missing.
Green Border acknowledges the roots of the crisis but asks tough questions nonetheless about a rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment and loss of humanity, not just in Poland but across the whole of Europe.
Executive producer Mike Downey told Deadline that the production had contacted X about the hate speech but to “little avail”.
“The tide of hate is almost unstoppable so we’re focusing on getting the film out there to as wide an audience as possible,” he said.
Downey added that Holland and the entire team behind the film would not be cowed by the political backlash.
“The response by the Polish regime is business as usual for them,” he said. “The attack on Agnieszka and the film is discriminatory, despicable, and hateful of the extreme right that holds power in Poland. “
He said the online haters were attempting to deter people in Poland from seeing the film.
“The message that is being sent out is that ‘good, real, patriotic’ Poles are not supposed to watch it. The universal text and subtext is, that Agnieszka Holland is a traitor to the nation,” he said.
Holland is currently in Toronto where the film made its North American on Tuesday and plays again on Friday (September 15).
Downey said that the production would then focus on the Polish release on September 22 by Kino Swiat.
He notes that September 22 is also the day that Poland is due to announce which film will submit for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards.
A number of reviews – including that of Deadline – have suggested that Green Border would make a worthy candidate.
“We watch carefully for the result,” said Downey.
Holland was nominated for Best Screenplay for Europa Europa in 1992 as well as for In Darkness, which was Poland’s candidate for the 84th Academy Awards. She also represented the country in 2017 with Spoor.
Beyond the potential awards run, Downey believes the film will feed into conversations in the lead-up to national elections on October 15 in which the Law and Justice party is hoping to win a third term in office.
“Agnieszka will be back in Poland after Toronto to campaign for regime change. We hope that the film can be a positive signal that resistance is possible,” he said.
“The one thing that Agnieszka will not do, and neither will we, as her staunch supporters on the production, and that is to back down to the intimidation that the regime is showing to artists across the board. Their contempt for the creative communities and their bully-boy tactics will not work. The election is coming and we will take the fight back to them.”
Further producers on the Polish-French-Czech-Belgian co-production are Marcin Wierzchosławski (Metro Films) , Fred Bernstein (Astute Films), Holland (Metro Lato), Maria Blicharska-Lacroix, Damien McDonald (Blick Productions), Šárka Cimbalová (Marlene Film Production), Diana Elbaum, David Ragonig (Beluga Tree) and Dominika Kulczyk (dFlights).