The European Film Academy is in the firing line as fresh allegations against Roman Polanski put his four EFA nominations under scrutiny.
The European Film Academy is in a difficult situation ahead of the European Film Awards (EFAs) to be held in Berlin on December 7. An Officer And A Spy, Roman Polanski’s film about the 1890s Dreyfus Affair in France, has been nominated in four categories, including best film and best director. But the Polish filmmaker is at the centre of a media storm amid recent claims he raped an 18-year-old woman in 1975; Polanski denies all the allegations.
The challenge for the Academy is how to prevent this from overshadowing an event intended to celebrate European cinema. The board had yet to make a public statement on the issue, just a week before the ceremony. “We want to wait until Polanski has talked himself,” says academy director Marion Döring.
“This is very unfortunate for the distributors and producers of the movie,” says renowned Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, chair of the academy. “It is also a very difficult situation for [Polanski’s alleged] victims who have [spoken out].”
The members nominated Polanski’s film in good faith, she says. “Taking the film out of the competition would be unfortunate and not right,” Holland says. “It is up to the members to express their opinion about the movie.”
The academy is trying to perform a delicate balancing act. “It is very difficult to show respect to the [alleged] victims and, at the same time, not to lynch the person that is accused,” as Holland puts it.
A further consideration is the knock-on effect on Polanski’s collaborators on the film, among them Jean Dujardin, who is nominated in the best actor category and is expected to attend the ceremony. “He can’t be held responsible for whatever allegations there are against the director,” suggests Holland.
Polanski will definitely not attend the ceremony as he is unable to travel to Germany from his home in France due to the outstanding extradition charges against him in the US. The charges date back to 1977 in California and the crime of having unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, to which he pleaded guilty. Polanski left the US before he could be formally sentenced.
In another twist, EFA eligibility officially cuts off on May 31 each year. However, rules in place since 2010 allow “exceptional” films that premiere after June to compete — interestingly, An Officer And A Spy, which premiered at Venice in August, is one such exception. Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, which premiered at Venice in 2018, was not. Instead it is in contention for three awards, including best film, this year.
They are joined by European titles that have dominated festivals throughout the year. These include Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables, Céline Sciamma’s Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, Nora Fingscheidt’s System Crasher, Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor and Pedro Almodovar’s Pain & Glory.
The academy would undoubtedly prefer the conversation to be focused on Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is understood to be attending the ceremony. A former political prisoner in Putin’s Russia, the academy campaigned tirelessly for his release.
The academy will also be mourning the loss of one of its own: UK producer Nik Powell, who died in November. He was a former academy chairman and vice chairman and was actively involved in its affairs. “He has been very close to us and [his death] was a big shock,” says Döring.
“We loved Nik and he was such an important presence — the soul and smile of the academy for so many years,” says Holland.
The European Film Academy has 3,700 voting members and the EFAs remain the only democratically voted awards for European cinema. “The other awards are jury awards,” notes Holland.
In theory, films backed and released by the US streamers are eligible for prizes. “We have nothing against them as long as the film has a theatrical release,” says Döring. “For us, cinema is the most important medium.”