Growing pains

Can a bigger EFA still effectively promote Euro film?

In its 15 years of existence, the European Film Academy has sought to unite as well as celebrate Europe’s diverse film community.

While unable to come close to Hollywood in terms of money, glamour and pizzazz, it has managed to bring Euro filmmakers together and offer them a sense of community and cultural identity.

Yet the Academy has often found itself on a tightrope, trying to please hardcore auteurs who see their work as the antithesis of Hollywood fare as well as more commecial-minded members who would like to see greater B.O. impact from European titles as well as more glamour at the annual award ceremonies.

Rebecca O’Brien, producer of Ken Loach films “Ae Fond Kiss” and “Sweet Sixteen,” says the EFA is really worth having as an antidote to American movies. And it’s good for the Europeans to have a forum in which to show their appreciation of local films and the wealth of product coming out of Europe.

Noting that many Euro pics, including EFA nominees, are not heavily marketed, O’Brien says the Academy can boost a film’s profile. “We’re very grateful for it, especially when we have to compete against the aggressive financial clout of Hollywood.”

Fellow filmmakers agree that the EFA is vital for the international success of domestic pics, and for the evolution and advancement of a modern European film culture.

X Filme producer Stefan Arndt says that as a teenager, he saw all of Francois Truffaut’s, Louis Malle’s and Jean-Luc Godard’s films on television. “Today it’s rare to see European films on television at all.”

Arndt, who won a European Film Award last year for German hit “Good Bye, Lenin!,” praises the Academy’s efforts. “The EFA is an absolutely super initiative. It’s grown really well over the years.”

Yet he acknowledges that Euro pics still face major obstacles. “It’s only the films which manage to get a wide release into cinemas across Europe which become known, and only some six or seven manage that each year.”

Indeed, the team at Austria-based production outfit Coop99, whose “Darwin’s Nightmare,” about the global exploitation of Tanzania, won this year’s European Film Award for doc, contend that EFA and Europe as a whole need to do more to make the public aware of Euro culture and diversity.

“More P.R. work and publicity has to be done in order to make the European Film Academy an institution embedded in the public awareness,” says a statement from Coop99’s Barbara Albert, Jessica Hausner, Martin Gschlacht and Antonin Svoboda. “It is important to focus on the broadness of European culture in filmmaking and not try to copy the Oscars or the American Film Academy. Europe has so much to offer in this sector and has always been underestimated.”

Others say the EFA has already helped filmmakers cross borders and has aided the exportation of cinematic ideals, stories and even directors, cinematographers and actors despite many European filmmakers remain focused on their own countries.

“Since each individual country has its own film universe, I don’t think even bordering countries have an opportunity to meet other filmmakers,” says Hungarian writer-director Nimrod Antal (“Control”). “(The EFA) provides the opportunity for European filmmakers to have an audience and meet. To have something like the EFA can only be a good thing.”

Expanded reach

With the eastern expansion of the European Union, awareness of the EFA has increased in former Eastern Bloc countries, although EFA director Marion Doering says the org and the European Film Awards have always included filmmakers from the East.

The EFA also has long-standing relationships with several festivals in Eastern Europe including Cluj, Krakow, Karlovy Vary, Sarajevo, Sofia and Warsaw. “These encounters with Eastern European filmmakers do, of course, result in a constantly growing membership and we are receiving many films from these countries to be candidates for the European Film Awards,” Doering says. Of the EFA’s 1,600 members, about 250 are from Eastern Europe.

Doering says the strong commitment from Eastern Europe is exemplified by recent contributions to the Academy from the FYR Macedonia Ministry of Culture and the National Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences of Russia. “It was they who approached us because they wanted to help, which certainly is the best proof of how important we are for the film communities in this part of Europe.”

German sources, including the national lottery, the Berlin-Brandenburg state film subsidy and the federal government provide 75% of the Academy’s S730,000 ($946,689) budget. “We would very much appreciate if there would be more financial backing from other European countries. Especially the German authorities, who have supported the EFA for more than one and a half decades so generously, would welcome a stronger European commitment because the Academy is a European association with Europewide activities.” This year the Nordic Film- & TV Fund will come onboard as an Academy supporter.

Launched in 1989 by some 40 veteran European filmmakers, including Ingmar Bergman and Wim Wenders, the org’s first prexy and chairman, respectively, the EFA is attracting a new generation of members from all over Europe, Doering says.

Technology, commerce, cooperation and political unity might be offering young Europeans the chance to be part of a truly united Europe for the first time in history, but Doering says the European ideal is something that has long been embraced by young and old alike.

“It is a question of spirit. Whoever is interested in joining the Academy already expresses the wish to network with Europe and to experience European film culture,” Doering says. “Dusan Makavejev, who is an EFA founding member, is the youngest filmmaker I know — despite being in his 70s. And Manoel de Oliveira, who is already in his 90s, is making a film every year.”

(For a complete list of this year’s nominees, click here.)

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