On Monday, December 21st, Universal Pictures hosted a virtual screening of Paul Greengrass’s latest film News Of The World, followed by a Conversation with Greengrass and actress Helena Zengel.
The 118-minute film stars Academy Award winner Tom Hanks alongside rising actress Helena Zengel. News Of The World is based on Paulette Jiles’ best-selling novel of the same name. Greengrass directed the film and co-wrote it with acclaimed screenwriter Luke Davies.
The film is set five years after the end of the Civil War and follows Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks) as he travels from town to town sharing the news of presidents, feuds, disasters, and adventures with anyone with ten cents and a desire to listen.
When Kidd is traveling through Texas en route to the next town he will speak to, he discovers a 10-year old girl named Johanna (Zengel) who had been taken by the Kiowa people and raised as one of their own. Kidd takes it upon himself to return Johanna to where the law tells him to while facing many challenges along the way.
After the screening of the film, Thelma Adams, a historical fiction novelist and film critic, moderated a conversation between Greengrass and Zengel. The trio spoke about the inspiration behind the film, how to make sense of it during this time, and the impact it has had on Zengel’s life.
She kicked off the conversation by asking how making this movie has changed Zengel’s life and her view of the world. “It’s changed me in lots of ways. First of all, it was the start of a hopefully great career. Also, having that chance to play with Tom Hanks, and also being in America—it was my first time there. It was just a dream and I think I am so lucky that I was able to do that. Also, I think shooting with the Native Americans changed me in some ways because now I know so much more than I did before. Also, it was really interesting to hear their story because there are many stories you can tell about what happened in that time,” Zengel said.
Adams then brought up how the news has evolved since the time in which this movie takes place. She mentioned that every single town had its own newspaper during that era and that now we don’t have the level of newspapers and news writers in America that we did back in 1870. Greengrass replied, “We are the storytelling animal. Storytelling is so important. The shared experience of stories are important whether they’re newspapers or books or novels or movies or just sitting in a bar or a cafe or at home in the family.” He then went on to say that storytelling is currently under profound attack for two reasons. “First of all, it’s under attack in the political sphere in our cultural sphere. Where forces want to substitute truth for lies and lies for truth… That strikes at the heart of the collective experience of storytelling and it aims to divide us rather than connect us” he said. Greengrass stated that the second problem is that COVID has destroyed the collective experience of storytelling but that he is hopeful that it will return soon and that he is proud to have told a movie with a lonely wandering newsreader at its heart.
Greengrass also spoke about his inspiration behind creating the film and the message he hoped to impart to its viewers. He said he wanted to find the road out of all of the chaos the world is currently battling and to show what the pathway to healing looks like. Greengrass said that “You find it through individual journeys. Each of these two characters—they’re both lost for different reasons. Physically, emotionally, in all ways they have nowhere to belong and they have to find their way. And they end up finding their way together of course as all great stories would have it so. There is a truth in that we’re going to get through this period through technology and kindness.”
For the final question, Adams asked Zengel what she wants to do next following the release of this film. Zengel replied “I for sure want to stay an actress…and I hope that this pandemic is going to be fixed soon. Also, I want to do new movies and hope that I am going to get new roles and good roles.”
News Of The World will be available in theaters on December 25th.