In Mick Jackson's new film, Denial, Rachel Weisz plays historian Deborah Lipstadt, who is forced to prove that the Holocaust existed when outspoken denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) sues her for libel. Based on Lipstadt's book, History on Trial: My Day in Court With a Holocaust Denier, Denial is a true story that takes place 20 years ago in the British legal system, where the burden of proof is on the accused. Her legal team, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), tear apart Irving's accusations over a multiyear court case.
Lipstadt says that despite the court ruling against Irving, she believes that Holocaust denial is still prevalent. "Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism. It's also, as in David Irving's case and many others, it's a form of racism," she said.
For the filmmakers, the story is particularly relevant today. Jackson said that a year ago, he was having dinner with Lipstadt in Atlanta and the parallels between Irving and the current Republican presidential nominee became particularly strong. They turned to each other and said, "'It's David...Trump, it's Donald Trump.'"
The filmmakers saw the character of Irving come to life in Trump, from his constant proclamations of being an outsider, to brushing off racism as humor, to one of his foreign policy advisers, David Schmitz, being accused of Holocaust denial. They saw in recent stories, the same type of lies propagated by Irving to push one's own agenda, including Trump's story of thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating on 9/11 to Bill O'Reilly's responding to Michelle Obama that White House slaves didn't have it so bad.
"It was a fact that they would be sent down to Louisiana where slavery was particularly horrendous because of working in the sugarcane fields and other things," said Lipstadt, shocked that the argument even needed to be disproved.
"So it's inconvenient history, inconvenient truth," she continued. "Whether it's climate change, whether it's Brexit, whether it's 9/11, the claim that 9/11 was an inside job by the CIA, or that prior to 9/11, 3,000 Jews got a phone call the night before telling them not to come to work."
For the author, Holocaust denial paves the way for any historical event to be denied to push one's own agenda. "If this history can be denied, any inconvenient history can be denied. Now there's a claim made [around Sandy Hook] in the last few months, that it was staged by people in order to get stricter gun control. So if it's inconvenient, it can be denied," said Lipstadt.
Read more: 'Denial': Film Review | TIFF 2016
Jackson believes that one of the main issues at stake is how quickly lies can be spread today. "One of the problems is, that with the Internet, if you have a crazy opinion, it's so easy within the space of a half hour, to make contact with 100, 200 people who share that same crazy opinion, and before the Internet you'd never meet them in your lifetime," said Jackson. "You think 100 people, maybe 1,000, maybe a million people, maybe you are a movement. And you know it's based on the Hitler saying, 'The Big Lie.' The more often you repeat it, and the more people who repeat it, the more close to the truth it seems."
Lipstadt said the people she wanted to reach with the trial, her book and now with the film are the "yes, but…" people. "'Yes I know it's ridiculous to think that 3,000 Jews were called [on 9/11]…but maybe. Yes I know it's ridiculous to say that there wasn't a Holocaust, but maybe there weren't gas chambers," she said. "Yes I know it's ridiculous to think that climate change isn't having an impact, but maybe it's really natural. It's the "yes, but…" people."
Jackson also pointed out the need for more fact-checking at the debates. "We sometimes wish, wistfully, that the character played by Tom Wilkinson in the movie could be in the presidential debates as a moderator," he said, about Rampton, who skillfully brought down Irving by clearly disproving each of his claims through facts.