- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Polish director Andrzej Wajda, a cinematic hero of the Cold War, claimed a prize for his life’s work at the Berlin Film Festival yesterday and said he feared political filmmaking was losing its niche in Europe.

Mr. Wajda, who made classics including “Ashes and Diamonds” and “Man of Iron,” about the Solidarity strikes in Gdansk in the summer of 1980, said he was proud of his contribution to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Cinema can speak to people’s consciences. I don’t think I’ve wasted this life because I’ve contributed something to the course of political events,” Mr. Wajda, who will turn 80 next month, said at a news conference.

He said the cinema had served a revolutionary purpose in Europe during the Cold War but that the disappearance of a massive ideological rift had left many socially engaged filmmakers searching for orientation.

“When the wall still stood, everyone wanted to know what was happening behind it,” he said.

“You had all these large cinemas which were filled to the last seat. But there is no audience for political film now, and it is pointless if there is no audience.”

Mr. Wajda paid tribute to the role that the Berlinale, now in its 56th year, had played as a showcase for subversive filmmaking from the Communist Bloc and that it was still carrying on its strong political tradition.

“The Berlin Film Festival was tremendously important to filmmakers from the East,” he said.

“Berlin was the only center of freedom close to Warsaw. Coming to Berlin meant coming to freedom. There were political films being shown there, and not just art for art’s sake.”

Mr. Wajda, who received an Oscar in 2000 for lifetime achievement, said work on his next picture, about the Soviet massacre of thousands of Polish army officers at Katyn in 1940 had been difficult but that he hoped to complete filming this year.

He said his own father was among the men who were killed in a war crime blamed for decades on the Nazis.

“I plan to focus on the personal aspects — waiting for my father to come back, never knowing whether he was dead or alive, realizing he would never come back,” he said.

Some 22,000 Polish men were taken prisoner by the Red Army when the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland in 1939 following the Molotov-Ribbentrop nonaggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany that year.

On orders from Stalin, thousands of the Poles were shot in Katyn Forest.

The Nazis revealed the crime in 1943, but the Soviet Union blamed Hitler’s Germany for the massacre. In 1990, then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged Soviet responsibility.

Mr. Wajda was to pick up his Golden Bear prize late yesterday at a gala ceremony that was to include a screening of his 1972 film “Pilate and Others.”

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