‘Zone of Interest’ Executive Producer Danny Cohen Refutes Director Jonathan Glazer’s Oscar Speech: ‘I Just Fundamentally Disagree’

“The Zone of Interest” executive producer Danny Cohen has become the first member of the film’s production team to publicly address director Jonathan Glazer’s Oscars speech, saying “I just fundamentally disagree with Jonathan.”

While accepting the Academy Award on Sunday evening for best international film, Glazer delivered a set of pre-written remarks in which he compared his Holocaust film to the current conflict in Gaza. He was accompanied on stage by producer James Wilson and executive producer Len Blavatnik.

“All our choices were made to reflect and confront us in the present, not to say look what they did then, but rather look what we do now,” he said, according to the Academy’s official transcript of the speech. “Our film shows where dehumanization leads at its worst. It’s shaped all of our past and present. Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people. Whether the victims of October — whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza, all the victims of this dehumanization, how do we resist?”

“The Zone of Interest” follows the story of Rudolf Höss, the longest-serving commandant at Auschwitz, and his family while they happily lived next door to the death camp.

Speaking on the Unholy podcast, Cohen, president of Access Entertainment and former director of BBC television, said: “It’s really important to recognize it’s upset a lot of people and a lot of people feel upset and angry about it. And I understand that anger frankly.”

Cohen said that he’d been contacted by “a lot” of people in the Jewish community who thought the film was crucial to Holocaust education and were upset that it had been “mixed up with what’s going on now [in Gaza], whether that was Jonathan’s intention or not to do that.”

The producer added he did not support Glazer’s comments. “I just fundamentally disagree with Jonathan on this,” he said. “The war and the continuation of the war is the responsibility of Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organization which continues to hold and abuse the hostages, which doesn’t use its tunnels to protect the innocent civilians of Gaza but uses it to hide themselves and allow Palestinians to die. I think the war is tragic and awful and the loss of civilian life is awful, but I blame Hamas for that.”

Glazer’s comments caused controversy particularly among the Jewish community, with Holocaust survivors writing open letters to repudiate his claims. However, his speech also received support from those calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, including Stefanie Fox, the executive director of leftist group Jewish Voice for Peace.

In a statement to Variety, Fox said that Glazer “wants to apply the lessons of the Holocaust to the horrors that ‘confront us in the present’ … Glazer speaks for the massive and growing number of Jews who honor our histories by joining our Palestinian siblings in their struggle for freedom and justice.”

Asked by “Unholy” co-hosts Jonathan Freedland and Yonit Levi whether Glazer had discussed the speech with anyone else in advance, Cohen revealed the director had planned it with Wilson, solving the mystery of who “we” referred to when Glazer uttered the controversial words: “We stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked.” (Blavatnik was reportedly not aware of what Glazer had planned to say.)

Glazer and Wilson “have been collaborators on filmmaking and in life and in ideas for a long time so I believe it was – well, I know it was — something they wrote together,” Cohen said.

The producer also expressed disappointment that the success of film – which picked up a second Academy Award for best sound – had been overshadowed by Glazer’s comments. “John spent 10 years making the film and has made something remarkable but people are talking this week more about what he said for 30 seconds,” Cohen said. “And I think that’s regrettable because I’d love the conversation to be focused on the film itself.”

“Listen, it’s his film,” Cohen said. “He can stand up there and choose his own words and that’s fine and he’ll do that and he’s a strong person and I’m sure he’ll stand by those but for me it wasn’t the right time and didn’t have enough context and I thought it was a distraction from the great piece of art. John is someone who really, he allows his work to do the talking.”

Blavatnik has not publicly commented on Glazer’s speech but Cohen said the financier’s aim was, like his own, to contribute to Holocaust education. Cohen said they both agreed to finance the movie after seeing carefree photos of the Höss family standing in their garden, which backed onto Auschwitz.

“Big picture is we are honored and thrilled to win Academy Awards,” Cohen concluded. “The film as I say is remarkable and I think that’s what’s going to be remembered in the longterm, not that speech. And we’re extremely proud of the film. There’s been a bump in the road here but I don’t think it takes away from us that it’s a remarkable film and the impact it can have on Holocaust education which was certainly the purpose for Len Blavatnik and I.”

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