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Euro fans find thin air in blogosphere

Continent lags behind U.S. in awards websites

While fan-generated movie sites in the U.S. such as Ain’t It Cool News and Dark Horizons have hit the radar of mainstream media and become a haven for award season addicts, in Europe the Web is still an uncharted territory for kudos season bloggers.

In France, Germany, the U.K., Spain and Italy, blogging is still in its “embryonic stage,” says Xan Brooks, Guardian Unlimited film editor.

“There is no real blog culture in the U.K.,” Brooks notes. “It hasn’t grown past the stage of the fan-in-bedroom type of blog.”

And whereas the most influential film sites in the U.S. started with a movie geek blogging from his bedroom, like Harry Knowles and his Ain’t It Cool News, the rise of the common blogger is hampered in Europe by limited access to the industry.

Independent bloggers in Europe can’t count on insiders to feed them the news like well-connected Hollywood-based fanboys do, says Aurelien Ferenczi, head of the cinema unit of Internet service provider Telerama.

“In France, the boundary between the worlds of media and cinema is much more hermetic,” explains Ferenczi. “But in Hollywood, the film industry is almost transparent to the media, and they feed off of each other.

“Our film blogs tend to fall into the ‘Internet trash’ category because it’s always easier to give random opinions than relevant information.”

The lack of a blog culture for cinephiles also stems from a long-entrenched view of film reviewing as strictly theoretical and academic, rather than empirical consumer oriented.

This bias against amateur journalism gives European newspaper- and magazine-owned blogs a near-monopoly of Web readership during kudos season.

In Europe, Brooks says, the image of “a critic sitting on top of the tree passing along the knowledge to the masses” still persists, although the Guardian Unlimited is ahead of the curve compared with other European film sites.

It covers the Oscars minute by minute and encourages readers to become the critic du jour with Oscar-themed trivia, voting contests and forums that spark heated discussion; Brooks opines that the high turnout online indicates the Brits’ “huge appetite for the Oscars. The Monday following the Oscars is the biggest day for us in terms of Web traffic.”

“Independent blogs represent a potential competition, so we respond by having our own blog,” explains Fritz Goettler, film editor at Suddeutsche Zeitung.

Last year, the Brits were especially fervent observers of all things Oscars because Helen Mirren and “The Queen” were up for best actress and best picture nods. “We have a cheerleader mentality that kicks in when our films and talents are part of the competition,” Brooks says. “It’s a sort of patriotism.”

And the cheerleading syndrome extends to Germany, where, according to Goettler, readers of Suddeutsche Zeitung’s website closely followed last year’s Oscar derby because “The Lives of Others” was nommed for foreign-language picture.

“We saw that Hollywood showed interest for our films, and we reciprocated this interest,” Goettler says, adding that he has hyped up this year’s award season coverage online.

However, the Oscars generate as much derision as curiosity from European papers and their readers.

“We like to be snooty about it and argue that it doesn’t say anything about films,” Brooks jokes. “And it’s a valid point. But we still like it.”

“Why does the media make a bigger fuss of the Oscars every year?” one Guardian Unlimited reader complains. “As if they’ve ever meant anything other than Hollywood patting itself on the back.”

Ferenczi agrees. “It seems to be more of a marketing campaign, a gigantic machine that feeds up the rich and powerful in the industry,” he says.

But as Brooks points out, many awards season films, such as “In the Valley of Elah” and “Charlie Wilson’s War,” reflect more than what’s going on in Hollywood.

“It’s not just about the Hollywood bubble, it’s like a pulse on what’s going on in the world,” Brooks says. “There are a lot of high-profile stars endorsing films that are more and more political. And that makes the coverage a lot more interesting for us.”

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