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Focus Features engages in the production, financing, and distribution of motion pictures. It also offers movie DVDs through its online store. It is based in New York City, New York.

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‘It became crystal clear they were lying’: the man who made Germans admit complicity in the Holocaust

Dec 2, 2021

Girls from the League of German Maidens. Photograph: Mary Cybulski/77th Venice International Film Festival Girls from the League of German Maidens. Photograph: Mary Cybulski/77th Venice International Film Festival With Final Account, the late director Luke Holland set out to obtain testimonies from those who participated in the Nazi atrocities – before their voices were lost. The result is a powerful mix of shame, denial and ghastly pride Last modified on Thu 2 Dec 2021 11.12 EST One day in 2018, the prolific documentary producer John Battsek received a call from Diane Weyermann of Participant Media, asking him if he would travel to the East Sussex village of Ditchling to meet a 69-year-old director named Luke Holland. Weyermann said that Holland had spent several years interviewing hundreds of Germans who were in some way complicit in the Holocaust, from those whose homes neighboured the concentration camps to former members of the Waffen SS. The responses he captured ran the gamut from shame to denial to a ghastly kind of pride. Now he wanted to introduce these testimonies to a mainstream audience, and he needed help. “Luke wasn’t consciously making a film,” Battsek says. “He was amassing an archive that he hoped would have a role to play for generations to come. We had to turn it into something that has a beginning, a middle and an end.” As soon as he saw Holland’s footage, he knew it was important: “It presented an audience with a new way into this.” The trailer for Final Account. At the time, Holland was in remission from myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer, which had previously killed his brother, and B-cell lymphoma. In late 2019, while the film was in postproduction, he told Battsek that he had been given a year to live. That prognosis turned out to be optimistic. He died on 10 June 2020 at the age of 71, shortly after Weyermann visited him in hospital to tell him that Final Account had been selected for the Venice film festival. “He wanted the film out in the world,” Battsek says. “He wanted his work to be appreciated.” Luke Holland. Photograph: 77th Venice International Film Festival When Holland embarked on the project in 2008, he wrote a mission statement in the form of a semi-haiku: “My grandparents were murdered / I want to shoot old Nazis / I am a film-maker.” His Jewish mother had fled Austria for England just before the German annexation in 1938; her parents had not. Holland had previously explored the period in his films Good Morning Mr Hitler! and I Was a Slave Labourer . Now he wanted to build an archive of interviews with perpetrators, coaxing often reluctant men and women in their 80s and 90s into unearthing uncomfortable memories. “The main driver was: ‘If we don’t get these voices now, soon we won’t have the opportunity to do so,’” says Sam Pope, an associate producer of Final Acccount . Pope, who grew up in Ditchling, had known Holland since he was six. When they reconnected in 2011, Holland showed him some of his interviews, and Pope had the same reaction as Battsek would seven years later. “The raw power of it leapt off the screen and I wanted to be a part of it,” he says. “None of this was easy. But he’d set a mission for himself.” Jewish organisations said: ‘Herr Holland, we’re not going to pay for you to speak to old Nazis’ Sam Pope The interviews began in October 2008 and continued off and on until 2016. Holland travelled alone on a shoestring, living off donations from friends such as the composer Michael Nyman, because funding was hard to find. “Jewish organisations said: ‘Herr Holland, we’re not going to pay for you to speak to old Nazis,’” Pope explains. “So Luke went to the German organisations and they said: ‘Herr Holland, how would it look if we gave you money to speak to old Nazis?’” Pope describes Holland as charming, persuasive and “a very active listener”. The reflections and confessions that the director elicited are testament to his ability to listen, but also to probe and thus get people to reveal more than they had intended. “When Luke sat down opposite these people, he was always conscious of the door,” Pope says. “If he pushed too hard too early, then it could mean the shutters come down. But at the same time, he couldn’t let them get away with mitigating or downplaying their involvement. It’s a slow unravelling of someone’s tightly knitted personal history.” Margarete Schwarz, an interviewee in Final Account. Photograph: © 2021 PM Final Account Holdings, LLC. Courtesy of Focus Features LLC. In one scene, Holland softly coaxes a man named Heinrich Schulze into admitting that the escapees from Bergen-Belsen who hid in his family’s farm were recaptured because Schulze himself reported them to the camp guards. “He [Holland] was very skilful,” Battsek says. “There are various moments when someone will say, ‘I wasn’t there’, and he will very gently ask questions that enable them to make it crystal clear that they’re lying and they were there.” He adds: “We wanted to present their view of their experiences in such a way as to enable an audience to come to its own conclusions.”

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