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Jim Wilson reeled off the Oscar nominations for The Zone of Interest, which he produced with Polish producing partner Ewa Puszczynska, as they were announced, beginning with best international film, sound, adapted screenplay, director and best picture.
“It’s amazing,” he told Deadline. “I’ve never produced a film that’s been in a conversation to this point. It’s been a real education to co-produce a film that this has happened to,” he added from his base in London on Tuesday.
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He said that the 2024 Oscar nominations are a testament to the strong relationships he and Glazer have with Film4, A24, House Productions and Access Entertainment.
Particularly gratifying, he said, was the nomination for adapted screenplay, which went to the film’s director Jonathan Glazer. “I’m thrilled because so much went into the writing of that. He’s never written a script on his own before and Martin Amis’ book was a springboard,” Wilson said, while noting there’s very little from the actual book that ended up in the film .
Wilson cited Amis’ book title The Zone of Interest and a line, taken out of context, that’s spoken by Rudolph Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, about “how difficult it would be to gas everybody” seated in a meeting room because of its high ceilings, as the only two examples of material used from the book.
Wilson said that it was Glazer who spotted Amis’ tome first. Or rather what he read first was a capsule review about the book in The Observer newspaper, when it was published in 2014.
“He spotted the thing, he hadn’t read it and it described the plot of the book, part of which was about a concentration camp from the perspective of a commandant and his wife. There was something about that idea that Jonathan sparked to. We read the book and we did think that there was something there…that it was partly domestic, the idea of home and work but work from the management floor not the victims to put it bluntly; from the perspective of the people who ran it,” Wilson continued.
The producer optioned the book in late 2014. “We developed it on our own for four or five years,” he said.
The Amis book fictionalizes the names of the concentration camp and the name of the commandant. “Fairly soon in that process, we realized that Martin Amis’ primary source must have been Auschwitz and that the book and the people are clearly based on the Höss’s — Rudolf and his wife Hedwig.”
A couple of months later, Wilson and Glazer visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp. They also made a point of seeing where Höss and his family lived. “It’s a private home now… and literally on the other side of the garden wall is the camp. He literally chose to live next door to Auschwitz. And Jonathan said, ‘I want to do Rudolf and Hedwig Höss and their family living a bourgeois life next to Auschwitz.’”
They hired Bartek Rainski as co-producer and for four years he spearheaded a team of researchers who studied witness testimony from those who had worked at the camp and for the Höss family and other officers. ”A lot of Polish people worked in the houses of SS officers. They were nannies, gardeners, cleaners. Hedwig would pick from the prisoners who had an expertise in gardening. We set our researchers to look at domestic and private episodes.”
A lot of material they found set out the day-to-day lives of the Höss family and that ended up in Glazer’s screenplay.
“Sandra Hüller, who plays Hedwig, would be in scenes with Hedwig and her girlfriends and they’re having a gossip about someone wearing a fur coat at the opera… that was all from little snatches of testimony from Polish workers. It’s almost like a ritualistic gathering of documentary material and conforming it into a feature idea. In essence the dialogue came from that research,” Wilson said.
Wilson and Glazer took their project to Film4 which he termed “our spiritual home” because of their past relationship involving Glazer’s film Under the Skin.
“It was important for us from an ethical point of view that we work with the people we’ve worked with before — there was always a thing of being loyal to people we’d worked with before,” he said as he mentioned former Film4 boss Tessa Ross “who was our fairy godmother when we worked on Under the Skin.”
Ross by now was a producer at her House Productions shop and she thought it could be something for Len Blavatnik’s Access Entertainment with whom she had a business relationship.
And Wilson and A24 had always had a good relationship because of Under the Skin and Wilson’s own film Waves now and suggested Zone of Interest could work for them as well.
“In a way we were working with all the people and entities we made Under the Skin with, though some of them were in different places,” he said while naming Film4s Ollie Madden and Daniel Battsek. Another huge supporter later on was Rose Garnett “who was at Film4 at the time we were starting the journey in 2014. Tessa and Rose were there and by the time she left to go and run BBC Film and ended up at A24, we were in the post and she’s been really helpful,” Wilson said.
“I’m thrilled for Jonathan, the whole team, the nominees and my producing partner Ewa Puszczynska. It’s just remarkable what they all did,” he stated.
As pleased as punch as Wilson is, he admitted to being ”flumaxed a bit it because it just doesn’t feel like the type of film that’s normally recognized by AMPAS” though he felt that perhaps the film reflected what’s going on in the world “which is the indifference to systemic violence.”
Johnnie Burn and Tarn Willers nominated for best sound for The Zone of Interest issued the following reaction statements:
Johnnie Burn: “This is such an extraordinary moment in my life, to be honoured by the Academy. Three years ago Jonathan Glazer said to me we are going to make a film about the holocaust but we are only ever going to hear the atrocities, and never go inside the camp. To be honest I panicked at the responsibility and thought he was mad. I am so grateful to Jonathan, Jim Wilson, Ewa Puszczyńska, A24, Film4 and Access for their faith in the sound, and I really couldn’t have done this without Simon Carroll, Brendan Feeney, and Max Behrens and all at Wave Studios, but mostly I am so very happy that more people will get to see the movie and its powerful message.”
Tarn Willers: “I am thrilled to receive this nomination! I’m delighted and at the same time humbled that our work has been recognised in such a way. This nomination of course extends to Mateusz Stasiak, Jimi Ogden and Fillip Sulima, my team whose work and creative ideas made this possible. And thank you to Jonathan Glazer, Jim Wilson, Ewa Puszczyńska, A24, Film4 and Access for their dedication to this important film.”
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