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Steven Spielberg's letter to American Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences

Los Angeles, November 22, 1999

Mr. Robert Rehme
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
8949 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Dear President Rehme,

Andrzej Wajda's own life story touches on many events of this turbulent century. He was a Resistance fighter at 16 following, the death of his father, a cavalry officer, in the Katyn forest massacre of 1940. After the war was won, he studied at the National Film School in Lodz, graduating in 1954. He first appeared on the world's screens with an honored trilogy of films about the aftermath of World War II, A Generation (1955), Kanal (1957; special jury award at Cannes), and Ashes and Diamonds (1958; film critics award at the Venice Film Festival). They made his reputation as a versatile storyteller who is particularly gifted with stories of irony, romance and epic sweep. During the long era of dictatorship, his emotionally charges, intellectually defiant films included, among others, three Best Foreign Language nominated films: Land of Promise in 1975. The Maids of Wilko in 1979 and Golden Palm winning picture Man of Iron in 1981.

The return to Western democracy in Poland was marked by Mr. Wajda's election to parliamentary office as a member of the SOLIDARITY caucus, and a 1991 European Film Academy Life Achievement Award for his body of work and contributions to the new cultural climate in Europe after the fall of the Wall. In 1997 Mr. Wajda took late Federico Fellini's chair in the French Academy.

Emblemats of Waida's later career is Korczak (1990), one of the most important European pictures about the Holocaust. It is a moving drama of the legendary pediatrician and educator who wrote under the pen name Janusz Korczak, who fights a valiant but ultimately tragic battle to protect the 200 children in his care from the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto and deportation to the Treblinka death camp. Kevin Thomas, of the Los Angeles Times, called the film "Yet another triumph for Wajda, long regarded as one of the world's greatest directors" and concluded that "Not only is Korczak one of the great Holocaust films, but it is also a great film, period". The Wall Street Journal's reviewer wrote "Wajda has proven that saints do not have to be boring. His Korczak is brave, stubborn and wise".

Film lovers honor him as one, of the most acclaimed directors in the history of film, one whose artistry has repeatedly brought the world's attention to European cinema. By striving to show both the loftiest heights and the darkest depths of the European soul, he has inspired all of us to re-examine the strength of our common humanity. Wajda belongs to Poland, but his films are part of the cultural treasure of all mankind.

The Example of Andrzej Wajda reminds all of us as filmmakers, that from time to time history might make profound and unexpected demands on our courage; that our audiences may call on us for spiritual uplift; that we might be required to put our careers at risk in order to defend the civic life of our people. Because of who he is and what he has done for the art of the movies, I respectfully request your consideration of Andrzej Wajda for an Honorary Academy Award in March 2000.

Steven Spielberg

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