EFP looks back at decade of growth

Promo organization flys the European film flag

HAMBURG — When Daniel Craig was picked to be the new James Bond in 2005, it is unlikely the shouts of joy were louder anywhere more than in the European Film Promotion office.

The EFP, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary as the Hamburg-based umbrella of Europe’s national film promotion bodies, had presented the British thesp — along with 17 other up-and-coming Europeans — as one of their “Shooting Stars” in 2000, and closely tracked Craig’s career from “little-known” to capturing one of the world’s most coveted roles.

“It was a magnificent feeling,” says Renate Rose, topper of the EFP, which itself has grown from “little known” into an international player as it expanded from 10 founding-member countries in its first decade to 27 now.

Recalling the news that Craig would be the sixth 007 in the Bond franchise, she says: “He’d been in a few independent films before our member, the British Council, recognized the talent and presented him as a ‘Shooting Star.’ We were over the moon when he got the Bond role.”

“Shooting Stars” is an annual grouping of talent for those up to 35 years old, nominated by member film promotion bodies and presented together for media and industry networking meetings at the Berlinale. It has become the pan-European org’s signature event, but it is by no means its only promotional vehicle.

The small office with a small budget has a big task: raise the awareness of European films across the home continent, despite its multitude of languages and cultures, and boost the profile of Euro films around the world.

With a limited amount of ammunition available in a €2 million ($2.7 million) annual budget with a staff of 12 (up from a budget one-tenth of that and staff of two in 1997), the EFP clearly has had to pick its battles carefully. But thanks to the clout and support of the national promotion boards, the EFP has nevertheless managed to make a mark in its first decade — with programs such as “Shooting Stars,” “Variety Critics’ Choice” and “Pictures Europe!” It has also carved a niche at selected international film festivals such as Toronto and Pusan. Since the EFP was created, the European share of the home market has grown from 23% to 25% — hardly spectacular, but an advance that is nothing to sniff at either.

“We’re doing complementary work to the national promotion agencies and profit enormously from each other’s know-how and promotional efforts,” Rose says. “I think there’s definitely been a big change in the European thinking over the last decade. There’s a lot more networking and more cross-border interaction than there was.

“Obviously we can’t change the overriding conditions all that much with the limited means,” she continues. “But we’re doing what we can. It’s wonderful to see Europe growing together. It’s both difficult, yet at the same time exciting, to promote films from so many different languages and cultures.”

Auds in France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Spain and elsewhere all have had their nationally known thesps and filmmakers (albeit still largely dwarfed by Hollywood), but they had been nevertheless oblivious to even the biggest names and hits even in the country next door. The EFP has been on a mission to change that.

“Before we started, there were well-known actors and filmmakers in individual European countries, but there was no one doing any promotion in neighboring countries. That was one of our first long-term goals: to build up a European star system that can compete with the United States.”

Eyebrows might have been raised and even a few nasty chuckles heard in 1997 at the EFP’s first “Shooting Stars” event when the first names of unknown talent were presented. But 10 years later, the EFP can look back at a fairly impressive alumni roster .

“It really helped me to take the first step on the international stage,” Daniel Bruehl (“Good Bye, Lenin!,” “Merry Christmas”) said in a recent interview, about his participation in “Shooting Stars” in 2003. “It put me, so to speak, in the right place at the right time.”

Ask Rose about EFP’s track record and she will whip out a study of the 42 “Shooting Stars” that were presented in 2005 and 2006: 23 of the 42 thesps later got invited to castings for international productions after the Berlinale networking, and 15 were given roles.

“I’d call that a pretty good result,” she says, adding the auxiliary benefit is that many of those who never made it into international projects nevertheless got a boost at home from the anointments. Everyone seems happy, she reports. “The casting directors are extremely appreciative. They tell us we’re presenting them talent on a silver platter.”

As the EFP has grown to 27 members, the accompanying expansion of “Shooting Stars” has become a bit unwieldy. There are plans afoot to tighten the standards, discard the one-per-member policy, and slash the number of recipients.

“We’ll have fewer next year,” Rose says. “There will be radical changes. The group has become gigantic, and it’s not really right when it’s so large. We’re working on a new concept. It will be up to a jury to make the final decisions.”

With its growing clout and financial backing confirmed for another seven years, the EFP’s future appears to be bright. It gets half of its funding from the Media program of the European Union and the other half from member orgs, private sponsors and public film promotion institutions. And in trying to find ways to overcome language and cultural barriers that have divided Europe for an eternity, it certainly has its work cut out for it.

“There is a massive arthouse audience around the world that wants to see European films,” Rose says. “But the films run aground with distributors. The more attention we can give European films, the better. We’ve now got a pan-European star system off the ground, and the networking is better than before. We’re on the right track.”

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