The European Film Awards turned 23 last weekend in Estonia and the event has found a comfortable groove and a fixed place on the calendar.
There seems to be general consensus that 2010 has not been a vintage year for movies, either in the US or the rest of the world. If the European Film Awards (EFA) were anything to go by last weekend in Tallinn, you’d think that Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer was the only show in town as it picked up a record six EFAs, leaving the competition in the dust.
But final results aside, the EFAs were anything but boring. Taking place in the picturesque and snowbound Estonian capital of Tallinn, the event celebrated a breadth of film-making talent and audacity which its Ghost-dominated results belied.
The show itself was brisk and slick, and its presenters – German comedienne Anke Engelke and Estonian actor Mart Avandi – were genuinely funny. Engelke, who hosted last year in Berlin as well, even donned heavy makeup in a pre-recorded skit to play both European Film Academy chairman Wim Wenders and last year’s winner Michael Haneke.
But what makes the EFAs unique is the focus it throws on talent that only gets a look-in in one category at best at the Oscars, Globes, BAFTAs and other US or UK events which revolve around English language films. Yes, The Ghost Writer, Another Year and most of Carlos were in English but most of the films being feted with nominations were distinctly, authentically not.
The Nokia Concert Hall buzzed with glamour of a delightfully non-Hollywood variety. Actress nominees Zrinka Cvitesic from Bosnia and Sibel Kekilli from Germany were radiant in a crowd that also included big Euro-names like Juliette Binoche (France), Luis Tosar (Spain), Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Denmark), Hannelore Elsner (Germany), Edward Hogg (UK), Jean-Marc Barr (France), Maria de Madeiros (Portugal), Amanda Ooms (Sweden) and lifetime achievement winner Bruno Ganz (Germany). Roman Polanski appeared by Skype on the giant on-stage screen to accept his various prizes. Skype, we were told on a number of occasions, was an Estonian invention.
I hadn’t been to the EFAs since 1995 when they were in a small tent in a gloomy neighbourhood of Berlin. The contrast to 2010 was marked and, in their 23 years, they have started to achieve what they always set out to – which is an awards ceremony that represents a continent united by its vibrant cinema. True, this year didn’t have the masterpieces of 2009 (The White Ribbon, A Prophet) or the Slumdog factor, but in Of Gods And Men, Soul Kitchen, Cell 211, Le Concert and (Spanish/Argentinian co-pro) The Secret In Their Eyes, it had proven crowd-pleasers as well as superb art films like Bal, Lourdes, Die Fremde and If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle. And then there’s Lebanon, the harrowing Israeli movie which won two awards and generated the evening’s best acceptance speech from its 48 year-old first time director Samuel Moaz who said that it was “never too late” to start making films.
After the ceremony was over and the guests milled over the three floors of the venue, a theory was repeatedly aired that the 2,300 EFA members don’t have the time to watch the many films that are required of them, that the Polanski thriller dominated because it was one of the few films that all members had seen and liked. Of course we will never know whether this is true, but even the giant-screen Polanski looked a tad embarrassed at the number of trophies heaped on him and his team.
Strangely, for all the talk about the winners, the ceremony felt more like a celebration than a contest. Many of the EFA films were up to a year old. Some, like Lebanon and Soul Kitchen, which both played in Venice in 2009, were over a year old. Others had their first grapple with audiences at Berlin and Cannes. Unlike the Oscars, Globes or BAFTAs, which throw the spotlight on brand new films and can often enhance their box office performance, the EFAs look back. It’s a fact which lowers the stakes but means that TV audiences across Europe might actually have seen the films in contention.