The truth doesn’t always lead to justice.  

Burning Bush is a three-part film created for HBO by world-renowned Polish director Agnieszka Holland. Based on real characters and events, this haunting drama focuses on the personal sacrifice of a Prague history student, Jan Palach, who set himself on fire in protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1969. It has been selected to be screened in the Special Presentation section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

Based on actual events and characters, this drama focuses on the self-sacrifice of a student, Jan Palach, who set himself on fire in a protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1969. Young female lawyer Dagmar Burešová led the legal fight brought by his family against the communist politician who slandered Palach’s name and his sacrifice for freedom.

Beyond a very strong narrative dynamism, which sometimes makes the film closer to a thriller, the choice of the human perspective gives Burning Bush the authenticity of a documentary and brushes away any risk of falling into sentimentalism. One of these human dimensions, remarkable and moving, sees the parents of young rebels worrying about the destructive nature of political opposition: “What if my son were inspired by Palach and followed his example?”

The series was later edited into a film. The premiere of the film version was set to be on September 12, 2013. The film was originally selected as the Czech entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards. However, AMPAS disqualified the film, citing regulations that the film must not have initially appeared on television. The mini-series aired on Czech TV eight months prior to the re-edited version that appeared in cinemas.

For Agnieszka Holland, Jan Palach’s story is of personal importance. As a student in Prague in the 1960s she took part in the student movement and the Prague Spring and knew some of the real-life characters. As she said: "There are few stories in which the contemporary viewer can see himself", Holland says. "I wanted to show young viewers what it looked like back then, that those were the heroes’ choices – between lesser and greater evil. The fact that HBO decided to go with these kinds of productions and is fighting for them to have their own identity is incredibly worthy."

Directed by: Agnieszka Holland
Screenplay by: Štěpán Hulík
Starring: Tatiana Pauhofová, Jaroslava Pokorná, Petr Stach, Vojtěch Kotek            
Cinematography: Rafal Paradowski, Martin Štrba
Music by: Antoni Komasa Lazarkiewicz   
Edited by: Pavel Hrdlička  

Czech Republic
209 minutes