Andrzej Wajda Freedom Prize

Freedom Film Festival Poster

Freedom Film Festival Poster by Wiktor Sadowski © American Cinema Foundation


The Holloway File
Database of Russian and Ex-Soviet Union directors

Andrzej Wajda tribute montage, Academy Awards 2000 © AMPAS

Film lovers honor Andrzej Wajda as one of the most acclaimed directors in the history of film, one whose artistry has repeatedly brought the world's attention to the European cinema.

Kira Muratova, Gary McVey, Andrzej Wajda listening to interpreter
Kira Muratova, Gary McVey, Andrzej Wajda listening to interpreter

In 1999 the American Cinema Foundation presented Mr. Wajda with its first Freedom Award at a public ceremony during the Berlinale festival in Berlin. John Kornblum, the US ambassador to Germany, spoke movingly of Andrzej Wajda's long, brave career. The climax of the ceremony was Mr. Wajda's announcement that he and a jury would select a group of outstanding filmmakers to receive a prize in his name, from the American Cinema Foundation.

Each director would be an example of the artistic quality and moral bravery embodied in Mr. Wajda's own films. Keeping in mind the many careers left behind after the changes of the Nineties, we also tried to honor the neglected and underappreciated artists as well as more celebrated ones. Here are the winners:

In 2006 the American Cinema Foundation published a booklet about the prizewinners.
It is available here (PDF 46MB).
Andrzej Wajda

2000 Kira Muratova, Ukraine/Russia

Kira Muratova and Andrzej Wajda

The first recipient of the Andrzej Wajda Freedom Prize, Muratova's career was stifled by censorship, and marred by official disapproval. Her main subject has always been the hard reality and the inner lives of women and girls. Many of her films were kept from audiences for two decades. She emerged as a filmmaker with an iron will and unshakeable integrity. Receiving the Wajda Prize in the presence of Ukraine's ambassador to Germany revitalized Muratova's career.

2001 Jan Svankmajer, Czech Republic

Surrealist filmmaker and graphic artist Jan Svankmajer, whose mixed-media work laid the foundation for many films considered new and cutting edge today, spent decades patiently perfecting his handmade craft, which combines live action, stop motion, and animation. Between 1968 and 1969, during the short-lived Prague Spring and the Soviet-led invasion, he escaped into surrealism. His work conjures up fantastical images to illustrate some very jarring truths about society—a fact not always appreciated by the authorities.

2002 Andreas Dresen, Germany

The works of Dresen, the youngest winner of the Wajda Prize, are informed by his experiences of life in the German Democratic Republic, Germany's Communist eastern half, which lasted from 1949 to 1990 and is still best remembered for walling in its own citizens. Dresen, one of the gentlest of souls, opens a window in his films, into the hearts and minds of everyday people. For Andreas Dresen, portraying the human condition with compassion and insight is enough of a political act.

2003 Alexander Sokurov, Russia

Sokurov won the attention and respect of serious filmgoers not merely because of his virtuoso talents, but because those talents are always placed at the service of his own visionary tapestry, an emerging personal epic of world history. His best known film, the stunning "The Russian Ark" illuminates the story of his nation and reveals aspects of its soul. Alexander Sokurov reminds us how close we remain in spirit to those 18th and 19th century idealists whose debates and passions created our present-day world.

2004 Marcel Lozinski, Poland

Lozinski came to international attention as a filmmaker who questioned some of the very premises of documentaries. Not every non-fiction filmmaker is celebrated for their skillful and beautiful visual metaphors, but Lozinski's often sum up the experiences of a divided Europe with simplicity and satiric wit. It is no accident that the Lozinski style of documentary filmmaking has acquired the name The Cinema of Social Concern.

2005 Bela Tarr, Hungary

An iconoclastic film director whose novel films test the limits of form and content, Bela Tarr challenges the spectator, not only with unexpected changes, but with a philosophical dimension. He is credited as one of the Europeans who've done the best recent work in expanding the horizions of cinema as an art form. He grew up in a cynical, jaded Hungary where social realism had become a scorned joke, yet traditions of Hungarian satire and irony might evade the censor. Mr. Tarr's own advice to first-timers: "Please, just watch the movie: just listen to your heart. Please trust your eyes: everything is very clear and simple. Watch."

Wajda Receives Honorary Academy Award
Announcing the new award: Andrzej Wajda, Gary McVey
Announcing the new award: Andrzej Wajda, Gary McVey

By striving to show both the loftiest heights and the darkest depths of the European soul, Andrzej Wajda 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 heritage of all mankind.

"I considered giving my name to this prize my duty"
—Andrzej Wajda