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Why the European Film Awards have never been more timely

In a turbulent year for the continent’s politics, the European Film Awards will celebrate the best of European film-making and honour the memory of the late Andrzej Wajda.

Europe’s annual celebration of the continent’s cinema takes place this year in Wroclaw, Poland — the European Capital of Culture 2016 — tomorrow night (December 10).

It’s an event many in the industry hold in high esteem. “The industry comes together at the European Film Awards and finds agreement about the values that are important for us,” says director Agnieszka Holland [pictured], chair of the European Film Academy. She is flying in for the evening from Baltimore, where she has been directing an episode of Netflix series House Of Cards.

This year’s films are in many different languages — Spanish, French, Bulgarian, Polish and English, among others — and represent very different film-making traditions. By a quirk of timing, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, nominated for Best European Film, was in European cinemas at the beginning of 2016 and has already won a best actress Oscar for Brie Larson. For the other nominees, the EFA nomination has a symbolic value and will also give a very useful boost to the marketing.

Agnieska-Holland

Agnieska Holland

“It is really important for us to be able to be seen on a pan-European stage. A nomination from the European Film Academy plays into that,” says Rebecca O’Brien, producer of Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, which is nominated for four EFAs. Loach, she points out, has a very strong following across Europe.

The film has already reached 860,000 admissions in France and has grossed approximately $6m there. The nomination can only help as I, Daniel Blake continues to be released in other European  territories.

Janine Jackowski, one of the producers of German festival hit and multiple EFA nominee Toni Erdmann, makes a similar point. “The EFA nominations will help distribution in countries where the film will be released in the next few months,” she says. “It will also maybe have an impact on the awards circuit in general.”

Toni Erdmann, directed by Maren Ade, is Germany’s selection for the foreign-language Oscar. A strong showing at the EFAs is likely to boost its chances with US Academy voters and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association too, who vote at the Golden Globes.

I Daniel Blake

I, Daniel Blake

This year’s Wroclaw setting has an added poignance given the recent death of renowned Polish director Andrzej Wajda, who often worked at the Wroclaw Film Studio and shot his classic 1958 feature Ashes And Diamonds in the city. Wajda had been expected to attend the EFAs as a special guest. Instead, his memory will be honoured.

History lessons

Wajda was one of the last great European directors to live through the Second World War. “This experience made them wiser than the next generation,” suggests Holland. “Now, when we have such a deep political crisis, we can see that the vaccine of the Second World War that prevented us from making stupid choices and forced us to create unity has evaporated. We have to find a new way of making culture and art important again in Europe, which has fallen into the trap of nationalist and xenophobic movements.”

Poland itself is now under the rule of the right-wing Law and Justice Party, which has been clamping down on media freedoms. When Pawel Pawlikowski’s EFA and Oscar winner Ida was shown on Polish public broadcaster TVP in March of this year, the broadcast was prefaced by a 12-minute introduction in which so-called experts warned viewers that the film was inaccurate and only won its Oscar because of its “pro-Jewish point of view.”

EFA issued a strongly worded press release stating the Academy “could not accept the manipulation of such a discussion by a one-sided judgement preceding its screening”.

Ida

Ida

This is indeed a turbulent period in European politics, most notably with the Brexit vote in the UK this year. The EFAs are held in high regard in the UK, however, with the country second only to Germany in its number of members of the European Film Academy. This year, the awards will be streamed live and for free to UK viewers on Curzon’s Home Cinema website.

And while it is too early to know the details of how the UK industry will engage with its European partners in the future, the European Film Academy has reassured the UK industry it will always be welcome at the EFAs and UK films will remain eligible — whether or not the UK is a member of the European Union.

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