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When Lena Dunham first read the script for Julia von Heinz’s “Treasure,” it hit home.

The “Girls” creator’s grandmother had just died at 96, and Dunham found herself thinking a lot about her heritage. “Treasure,” based on the 1999 novel “Too Many Men” by Lily Brett, follows Ruth (Dunham), a journalist who travels to Poland with her Holocaust survivor father (Stephen Fry) to confront their family’s tragic past. Not only did Dunham agree to star in the film, but her production company, Good Thing Going, signed on as well.

Both Dunham and her producing partner, Michael P. Cohen, are Jewish and found the story “incredibly resonant for both of our families,” Dunham tells Variety at Berlin Film Festival, where “Treasure” debuts on Saturday night.

“We both looked at each other after we read the script and went like, ‘This is something we’re going to be proud to tell our children that we made. This is something we would be proud to tell our grandparents,’” Dunham says. “Michael’s grandmother already watched it, and I’m like, ‘If Nan liked it, that’s enough for me.’ She gave a raving text review and I was like, ‘Nan can text?’”

“‘Girls’ might not have been for Nan,” Cohen interjects as Dunham laughs.

“It was interesting because my grandmother, she was at the premiere of the first season of ‘Girls,’ and I don’t think she loved it,” Dunham recalls. “I think she was excited because she thought, ‘Wow, Lena gets to wear so many pretty dresses.’ But I loved thinking that [‘Treasure’] would be one that she [would enjoy] … It’s been very special and emotional to show it to the members of my family who are still around.”

Below, Dunham discusses the timeliness of “Treasure,” the recent “Girls” renaissance and what to expect from her new Netflix show.

Tell me a bit about working with Fry. How did you forge that father-daughter bond?

When I sent the first picture of us together in costume to my mom, she was like, “Oh my god, I feel like now we know who your real dad is.” And he happens to be a gay cultural icon from another country. But who knows, it can happen!

Honestly, we didn’t have a lot of time in prep together. Stephen was learning Polish, which was intensive, and I was in a writers room for the show I’m on now. So we had met once, and then we went to Poland. But I think there was something about being the two native English speakers on this set — we just dove in with each other. We basically talked from morning to night every single day. There were even moments where he would be like, “You have to get off your phone,” irritated with me like a dad would be. But also there’s an incredible bond as two Jewish people going to these places. Our first day together was at the largest Jewish cemetery in the world in Poland, which holds the graves of many non-survivors and survivor’s family members. And then, each place we went held more keys to parts of our identity that we didn’t understand. And so that experience bonds you very quickly.

Had you been to Poland before filming “Treasure”?

I had been to Poland once in college, and it was very much a journey to drink alcohol with boys, not a journey to find my identity. And actually, at that point I didn’t even know — my grandmother had always said that we were Hungarian, when in fact Hungary is where the only surviving member of our family moved. All of our family, including my great-grandmother, come from Poland actually about 15 miles from where we were shooting. So on this trip, it had a whole new resonance — and also on this trip I was a sober, working adult who was interested in metabolizing these experiences.

It was impossible to overstate how powerful it is, particularly to go to Auschwitz, to experience the place, to understand that there’s also just a town of people living around that history. We think about it as this terrifying relic, when actually there is a terrifying relic surrounded by people continuing to live their lives. I think a really important film that came out this year is “The Zone of Interest” — they shot less than four miles from where we were and we had a lot of the same crew members. So it was really fascinating for me to watch that and understand that, as all of the things that were befalling Stephen’s character were happening, there was this other reality of people who were just living and ignoring. It has such a lesson to teach us, which is we cannot continue to turn our heads away when we see wrongdoing. We have to remain vigilant in holding on to our humanity.

Stephen Fry and Lena Dunham in “Treasure.”

Intentionally or not, it’s certainly a very timely film with the current conflict in the Middle East. What do you hope people take away from it?

It’s a strange thing, because Julia’s been trying to make this movie for over a decade. But my hope is that it can force us to look back at this horrific event in a deep way that continues our mission to never let something like that ever happen again — to Jewish people, or to anyone. Something that I love about storytelling is that when you learn someone’s story, their trauma, their truth, it’s impossible not to empathize with them. It’s the same when they say that a huge percentage of Americans think they don’t know a trans person, but once they do their perception of that may change. And so I hope that this is a movie that reaches people who may have distorted perceptions about what it is to be a Jewish person, and I also hope that it encourages a message of really, really strong opposition to any form of racism, xenophobia or hatred.

I have to ask about your upcoming Netflix series, “Too Much,” starring Megan Stalter and Will Sharpe. As someone who moved from the U.S. to London after a breakup, just like the plot of the show, I couldn’t be more excited. What can fans expect?

You’re literally our target audience. We’re going for the girlies who pulled a geographic after a breakup. We’ve been shooting for three weeks and it’s been an amazing experience. I mean, Megan Stalter is a joy and a pleasure and Will Sharpe is a total genius and we have an amazing cast lined up that we’ll announce soon. I’m sure you’ve experienced the fact that English and American people speak the same language, and yet there’s so many absolutely strange gaps in how we identify. And then also, I just love a woman in crisis getting what she deserves in the good way. And so that’s what we’re going for with that show. Also, speaking of this time in the world, trying to make something that’s loving and joyful and still hopefully sharp and incisive and all the naughty scenes that people are used to from me, but with a kind of underlying, underpinned message of love and hope.

It feels like everyone’s been rewatching “Girls” this year. What does it mean to you that people are still loving the show?

It’s crazy and wild and not something I expected. The cast and I, when we get sent a funny meme by someone, we’re sharing them. I’m going to be 38 in May; I started writing this show when I was 23. I felt like, “If I make a pilot, wow, what a life experience.” So the fact that there’s anyone — I mean, people are still watching a show that came out before Instagram was invented?! What the heck? So to anyone who’s leading the revival: I see your TikTok mashups. I feel grateful for them, even though I’m technologically incompetent and not really on Instagram. I’m getting the love and it’s very felt and appreciated.

Did you see the clip of Marnie (Allison Williams) singing “Fast Car” in the final season resurfacing after Tracy Chapman’s Grammys performance?

I love that Allison would constantly say when we were shooting “Girls,” “Oh my god, are you really going to make me sing this? This is so embarrassing.” And I’d be like, “It’s not going to be a big deal.” And then those are the things that become memes for the next 20 years. So I’m sorry, Allison.

Like Marnie’s performance of Kanye West’s “Stronger.”

I will credit her for some of the lyric changes in that. We’re very grateful to Allison.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.



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