The new film “Denial” is a thriller of a different sort. Based on the true story of self-proclaimed historian (and Holocaust denier) David Irving’s libel suit against Professor Deborah Lipstadt in British court, the movie recounts the strategic and emotional stakes of the case as well as how it affected all the immediate participants. The film stars Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt, Timothy Spall as Irving, Andrew Scott as Anthony Julius and Tom Wilkerson as Richard Rampton. The Jewish News recently interviewed Lipstadt about her role in the making of the film, seeing the pivotal moments of the trial replicated for the camera, and her thoughts on contemporary advocates of Holocaust denial.
How involved were you in the making of this film? I played what friends of mine who work in the movie industry describe as a “substantial” role. I had four or five meetings with David Hare before he started to write the script. I was sent copies of the script in its various drafts and was asked to comment on them. Then I met with Mick Jackson when he first came on as director. Both David and Mick visited me in Atlanta to see my home, meet my friends and watch me teach. When Rachel Weisz came on board, she called me and we talked for over an hour.
I subsequently spent a couple of days with her at her home telling her stories of my childhood and every other aspect of my life. During the filming, I had a lot of contact with Rachel who would inquire about how I might say a certain word (in my New York accent) or how I felt at a certain moment that she was about to portray. All in all, I would say it was a deep involvement.
What was it like going through the process of seeing your trial with David Irving recreated for the screen? It brought back many memories, not all of them pleasant. Painful at moments. Very eerie.
In a way, your trial was a lawsuit of the notion about the deeds of the Final Solution. During the process of going into the trial, did you ever feel frustrated by the whole situation? Or did you see it as an opportunity to educate more people about the truth of the past?
First and foremost, I saw it as legal proceedings. It was a trial and I was on trial. While I hoped it would have an educational objective that could not take precedence over the legal fight. I was glad when Irving’s anti-Semitism was made clear to the press, when they learned of his connections with David Duke and his racism. All that was important to me but at its heart it was a legal battle.
Holocaust denial is, unfortunately, still a staple of certain fringe movements all over the world. How do we combat this? I think that as a result of the trial, hardcore denial – the denial promulgated by David Irving – is on the wane. However, it’s still there but today it is treated with much more derision than before my trial.
How do we combat it? I am not sure there is an easy answer, but I do what I do best: I teach about the facts. The history. The truth.
Ultimately, what would you like audiences to think about after watching this film? I would like them to think a number of things: Holocaust deniers are full of bunk – they are liars and falsifiers of history. You cannot fight every battle, but there are certain battles from which you cannot turn away. This was one of those battles. There is a difference between fact and lies. Holocaust denial is not an opinion. It’s a rant based on a lie.
Denial extends beyond “just” the Holocaust. It encompasses climate change, the myths about vaccines causing autism, the notion that the 9/11 attackers were perpetrated by the CIA and/or the Mossad, or that the Sandy Hook massacre was trumped up by the Obama administration in order to gain gun control legislation. And to younger people and their elders, when you hear bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice, you must say something.
Lies cannot go unchallenged.
“Denial” will be shown Oct. 6 at the opening reception of the Scottsdale Film Festival, with Deborah Lipstadt scheduled to join in a live Skype discussion after the screening. Visit scottsdalefilmfestival.com. The film opens in Phoenix on Oct. 7. AJ Frost is a Phoenix-based writer and editor.