Oscars 2012: How the Grueling 'In Darkness' Got Made

Sony Pictures Classics

Agnieszka Holland says it was only after "I started to dream about it" that she agreed to direct the Holocaust drama.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Holocaust dramas often have been rewarded with Academy Awards, but when David F. Shamoon first approached Agnieszka Holland about directing his spec script based on the true story of a Polish Catholic crook who hid Jews from Nazis in the sewers of Lvov, Poland, she resisted. An Oscar nominee in 1992 for her screenplay for Europa Europa and a foreign-language film nominee for 1985's Angry Harvest, Holland explains her initial refusal: "I know how painful it is and how long recovery is after this kind of movie, so I didn't want to do it again. I told him, 'The script is great, but I don't think we need to do another Hollywood-based, English-language Holocaust movie.' "

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But Shamoon refused to take no for an answer. Eventually Holland relented, setting ground rules that didn't make it easy to secure financing of about $8 million. Instead of English, she insisted on shooting In Darkness in authentic languages -- Polish, German, Yiddish and Ukrainian. And she didn't want to use lighting effects, such as those in 1949's The Third Man, that would give the sewers tragic grandeur. "That would be fake, to put lights in the bottom of a tunnel to make it look beautiful, like a Gothic cathedral," she says. "It's gloomy, dark, wet, stinky. We tried to push the risk as far as possible."

After shooting in Leipzig, Germany, in 2010, Holland edited the film from four hours-plus to about 140 minutes at her Brittany home. Telluride and Toronto festival screenings and a savvy campaign have now lofted Darkness to an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film, where it will contend with titles like Iran's A Separation. Its U.S. release is set for Feb. 10, but it already has opened in Poland. "So far, over 700,000 have seen it there," says Holland. "The Oscars help put the film in a spotlight."

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  1. A Separation
  2. Footnote
  3. In Darkness
  4. Monsieur Lazhar
  5. Bullhead