Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer was the big winner at the 23rd European Film Awards which took place in Tallinn, Estonia, on Saturday night.

The Ghost Writer picked up six prizes from seven nominations including nods for best film, director and actor.

The six statuettes going to the French-German-UK co-production is a record in the European Film Awards’ 23-year history since these awards were all voted on by the 2,300-strong membership of the European Film Academy. Pedro Almodovar’s Hable Con Ella came near to The Ghost Writer with five awards in 2002, but two of these were People’s Choice Awards, and, similarly, Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye, Lenin! went home with six in 2003, but three of the gongs were also People’s Choice Awards.

Interestingly, this year’s People’s Choice Award did not go – as one might expect – to The Ghost Writer, but to Belgian filmmaker Jaco van Dormael’s Mr Nobody which, as one wag observed during the gala, “nobody had seen”. (In fact, the futuristic drama, starring Jared Lehto and Diane Kruger, took over $1m in France, over $800,000 in Belgium and $600,000 in Russia/CIS for a worldwide gross of $ 3.2m.)

Indeed, the European cinemagoers’ choice of Dormael’s first English-language film – over such competition as An Education, Soul Kitchen and Loose Cannons - provoked as much consternation among the gala audience as when Icelandic actor Ingvar E. Sigurdsson was named the People’s Choice Best Actor for his performance in Englar Alheimsins at the European Film Awards in Paris in 2000.

At the same time, the large German contingent at the Awards was in celebratory mood at the recognition given this year to the key role played by German producers in European co-production and the attractiveness of Germany as a shooting location for international production.

German production companies were involved in Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon - the winner of the revamped European Discovery – Prix FIPRESCI Award and the Carlo di Palma European Cinematographer Award-, Jessica Hausner’s Lourdes, which picked up the European Actress award for Sylvie Testud’s performance, Patrizio Guzman’s Nostalgia For The Light, the winner of this year’s European Film Academy Documentary 2010 – Prix ARTE, Olivier Assayas’ Carlos, which attracted the European Editor 2010 Award for editors Luc Barnier and Marion Monnier, and People’s Choice Award-winner Mr Nobody which had shot interiors at Studio Babelsberg in winter 2007.

German comedienne Anke Engelke reprised her role as host of the awards ceremony after making such a positive impression at last year’s Film Awards in Essen and was joined by up-and-coming Estonian actor Märt Avandi as a co-presenter in front of 1,400 guests who included EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou and Estonia’s President Toomas Hnedril Ilves at Tallinn’s Nokia Concert Hall.

Highlights in an entertaining two hours-plus ranged from the “surprise” appearance of Juliette Binoche, who spoke with genuine warmth and affection of composer Gabriel Yared, the recipient of this year’s award for Europen Achievement in World Cinema, and a standing ovation for Swiss actor Bruno Ganz who was presented with the European Film Academy Lifetime Achievement Award “for his outstanding and dedicated body of work.”

Amusing interludes were provided by the exchanges on stage between the veteran German actress Hannelore Elsner – dubbed “the foxiest lady in German cinema” by co-presenter Avandi – and Danish actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas as well as Russian director Victor Kossakowsky calling for reforms to the Awards regulations which allowed documentary filmmakers to also be eligible for nomination to the main category for best director.

Meanwhile, although the evening’s big winner Roman Polanski was not physically present in Tallinn, he was able to follow the proceedings via Skype and appear on screen to thank the Academy members for  rewarding “a truly European venture”.

Ewan McGregor, who received the European Actor 2010 award for his performance in The Ghost Writer, spoke in a pre-recorded clip from the set of The Impossible in Phuket, Thailand, for the eventuality that he would win the award and asked for “anyone in the audience who knows me” to send an email with the good news as he would probably be asleep at the time of the ceremony in Tallinn.

The gala was the kick-off event for Tallinn’s year-long celebrations as European Capital of Culture 2011 and rounded off a programme of events for Film Academy members and guests, which included a Conversation with Bruno Ganz and guided tours of Tallinn’s historic city centre.

In addition, official guests of the Film Awards were invited by Tallinners to have lunch in their homes on December 4 and hear stories about the town and its history from the local people. Gastronomic delights and much vodka flowed, according to some guests who spoke in glowing terms about the hospitality of their Estonian hosts.

Meanwhile, European Film Academy president Wim Wenders announced during the ceremony on Saturday evening that the 25th edition of the Film Awards will be held in the Maltese capital of Valletta in 2012 after stopping over in Berlin in 2011.

European film of the year
The Ghost Writer (France/Germany/UK) Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde, Roman Polanski, producers

European director of the year
Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer (France/Germany/UK)

European actor of the year
Ewan McGregor, The Ghost Writer (France/Germany/UK)

European actress of the year
Sylvie Testud, Lourdes (Austria/France)

European screenwriter of the year
Robert Harris & Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer (France/Germany/UK)

European Documentary of the year - Prix Arte
Nostalgia For The Light (France/Germany/Chile), Patricio Guzman

European animated feature film
The Illusionist (France/UK), Sylvain Chomet

Carlo DiPalma European Cinematographer Award
Giora Bejach, Lebanon (Israel)

European production designer of the year
Albrecht Konrad, The Ghost Writer (France/Germany/UK)

European editor of the year
Luc Barnier & Marion Monnier, Carlos (France)

European composer of the year
Alexandre Desplat, The Ghost Writer (France/Germany/UK)

European short of the year
Hanoi-Warsaw (Poland) Katarzyna Klimkiewicz

European co-production Award - Prix Eurimages
Zeynep Ozbatur Atakan, Turkish producer

European Discovery - Prix Fipresci
Lebanon (Israel) Samuel Maoz, director

People’s Choice Award for European Film of the year
Mr Nobody, Jaco Von Dormael

Lifetime achievement award
Bruno Ganz

Award for achievement in world cinema
Gabriel Yared