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Agnieszka Holland’s Stalin-Era Tale ‘Gareth Jones’ Boarded by WestEnd (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 2/10/2017 Leo Barraclough
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WestEnd Films has acquired worldwide sales rights to politically charged project “Gareth Jones,” the next film from twice-Oscar-nominated Polish director Agnieszka Holland, whose latest movie “Spoor” is in competition at the Berlin Film Festival.

“Gareth Jones” tells the real-life story of the eponymous Welsh journalist who exposed the Holodomor, Stalin’s 1933 genocide-famine in Ukraine. Research suggests that the reporter was murdered with the help of Soviet agents the day before he turned 30. His reporting of the famine was said to have inspired George Orwell to write “Animal Farm.”

Scriptwriter Andrea Serdaru-Barbul first approached Holland, who is the daughter of journalists, with her script two years ago. “Since then the story has become even more relevant,” Holland told Variety. “The situation around us has change, and you can find some similarities with the 1930s.”

Holland says she receives many scripts with political themes, but this one stood out. “I am always interested in politically charged subjects, but I have found most of them are pretty basic. My goal isn’t to make simple statements about the world. But this was different,” she says.

The personality of Jones is key to the project, she says, especially in a so-called “post-truth” era. “He started out quite naïve – a little, nervous young man; then he became a tragic superhero,” she says. He is torn between his knowledge of the atrocity and his awareness that there is little an individual can do about it, yet he understands “the responsibility of the media to inform the world of the truth, and this makes this character very powerful and relevant.”

She adds: “The duty [of journalists] to search for the truth and pass it on to the world, and not to distort or manipulate it, and not to choose their own careers or well-being over the truth, is just as important in our times. In some ways, Gareth is a very contemporary hero.”

In the story, Jones stands in opposition to New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, who prefers to stay in Moscow and write glowing reports about the successes of communism based on Stalin’s propaganda. “It is the juxtaposition between someone who is fighting for the truth and somebody building his career on a lie,” she says. “One is an opportunist, the other is a hero, but one who pays a high price for his heroism. It doesn’t come for free; only in Hollywood superhero movies is he the winner.”

Holland is best known for “Europa Europa,” the 1990 Academy Award nominee for best screenplay, and “In Darkness,” the 2011 Oscar nominee for best foreign-language film, and television works including “House of Cards,” “The Killing” and “The Wire.”

The producers of “Gareth Jones” are Poland’s Klaudia Smieja from Madants and Stanislaw Dziedzic of Film Produkcja; Angus Lamont of Scotland’s Crab Apple Films; Titus Kreyenberg of Germany’s Unafilm; and Belgium’s Umedia. Shooting is expected to start in October in Poland, the U.K., Belgium, and Germany.

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