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Glittering European Prizes

The EFAs and the BIFAs celebrate their respective constituents’ art and talent in as pure a way as possible, largely indifferent to the Hollywood awards hype machine.

Last weekend saw two European awards ceremonies take place, each with its own distinctive characteristics - the 24th European Film Awards (EFAs) in Berlin on Saturday night and the 14th British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs) in London on Sunday night. In a season dominated by talk of Spielberg, Fincher, Clooney and Pitt, these two events celebrate their own constituencies with gusto, happy to exist without mention of Hollywood and proud to honour what in the world of Oscars and Golden Globes might be termed “arthouse” cinema.
 
I first went to the EFAs in 1995 when they took place in a tent in Berlin but now they are a large scale awards event taking place in convention centres like this year’s Tempodrom in Berlin. The EFAs have resolutely retained their core modus operandi, flying the flag for European films like The White Ribbon, The Ghost Writer, and this year’s winner Melancholia which have only marginal or zero profile in the eyes of Hollywood studio-spun Oscar, Globe and (to some extent) BAFTA voters.
 
It’s never been easy for the EFA organizers to craft a ceremony with easy appeal to mass audiences. This is Europe, after all, which speaks in multiple languages, generates local stars and fetes film-makers with even more reverence than movie stars. The King’s Speech was a contender this year but was beaten by Von Trier; Oscar favourite The Artist walked away with just one prize for its score and Chico And Rita was animated favourite with not a Panda, Puss or Pixar title in sight.
 
The EFAs have had their fair share of knocks over the years for their multi-lingual, multi-cultural flavour but who said that good movies were the domain of the English-speaking world? And when it comes down to it, the EFAs are in the art business – throwing the spotlight onto highbrow films from Von Trier, Susanne Bier, Bela Tarr and the Dardennes, titles which the Oscars, Globes and BAFTAs either neglect entirely or relegate into their world cinema ghetto category known as the best foreign language film. This time, Susanne Bier was on stage winning the best director award and not the somewhat desultory foreign language prize she nabbed from the Oscars and Globes.
 
The BIFAs possess the same determinedly parochial attitude, honouring local film and talent and relegating all else into a “foreign film” category. Unlike the BAFTA Film Awards which embrace all US films, and is often accused of marginalizing British films, the BIFAs put British cinema front and centre. 2011 was a vintage year with Tyrannosaur, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Shame, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Senna among the nominees, and the event draws a faithful crowd of industry players and the cream of the country’s talent.
 
The fact that Tyrannosaur, a relentlessly uncompromising character piece, won the best film prize over more international-friendly fare like Shame and Tinker Tailor indicates that this is a very British affair with its own set of rules and standards. Likewise wins for Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, Richard Ayoade’s Submarine and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List. BIFA is a pure event, signaling the artistic achievements largely away from the hype.
 
My point is that when it comes to awards, chacun a son gout, as the French say. We are besieged with daily opinion anticipating how the 6,000-strong US AMPAS body will vote, but groups outside the US have their own taste and agenda. Vive la difference.

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