The European Film Awards, which takes place Dec. 1 in Malta, celebrates its 25th anni this year, and yet if it hadn’t been for the Germans it probably wouldn’t have got this far.
The European Film Academy, which runs the awards, is entirely funded from Germany: the German National Lottery is the main backer, with additional coin coming from the Federal Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs and regional org Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg.
The awards themselves — which cost around €2 million ($2.55 million) — receive funds from a variety of patrons and sponsors, as well as $222,000 from the European Union’s Media Program. But not everyone contributes. Although films from the U.K. and France represent more than a third of the nominations at this year’s awards, the two countries don’t contribute a single euro toward the kudos’ costs. The org says its awards’ broadcast license fees represent less than 10% of the awards cost. In addition to Europe, the show airs in 25 African and seven Asian countries, plus Australia, and is streamed live online on the Euro Academy’s website.
As the EU works on its new budget and seeks to replace the Media Program with cultural org, Creative Europe, it is unclear whether its support will continue, and with state budgets being slashed across Europe, the continued existence of the academy and its awards is in doubt.
The utopian spirit that inspired the formation of the first awards in Berlin in 1988 — an idea proposed by the city’s senator for culture, Volker Hassemer — and the academy itself, formed a year later, were similar to those that lay behind the formation of the EU: To unite the continent by emphasizing its common culture, and replace the division embodied by the wall that divided Berlin with harmony and a sense of common purpose.
Marion Doring, director of the academy, recalls the dire state of European filmmaking when the awards were set up.
European cinema had almost disappeared from the screens, she says, and the filmmakers who helped found the academy said it was important to regain the attention of the audience for European cinema.
This desire to provide a platform for European films and to promote them remains at the heart of the awards’ purpose, she says.
One challenge is the lack of European star power that travels. “There are stars, but they are mainly British and French, and a few Spaniards, and then it gets difficult,” she says. “We have fantastic actors all over Europe, and they are big stars in their own countries, but not outside.”
The academy can’t do this on it own, she says. “Be it the politicians, the media, the industry or the creatives, we all have to work closely together.”
Nik Powell, who as a producer won a European Film Award with “The Crying Game,” and now heads the U.K.’s National Film and Television School, is a long-time champion of the academy. He has been a member of its board since 1996, was chair for nine years and is now a deputy chairman. When he first became involved, he saw a chance to build on the strength of the continent’s creative community.
“I thought the academy and the awards provided a fantastic opportunity to bring filmmakers together from across Europe, a market of 700 million people, and with a fabulous diversity of filmmaking, from the old masters to the young guns,” he says.
He sees one of the challenges that the awards face is to reflect this diversity, and to pay tribute to the variety of filmmaking traditions that have developed, as well as providing a balance between honoring the work of established masters and giving a profile to up-and-coming filmmakers.
As for the awards themselves, there is the need to cover the glamorous side of the event without overshadowing the serious side of the filmmaking, and to balance the needs of the audience in the venue with those of the television audience.
“And then you have the structure of the show. Do you reinvent the wheel or go for a more classical show?,” Powell says. “Those are all the tensions that run through the event, and that was why I got involved, because it is a fantastic challenge.”
Film critic Derek Malcolm, the honorary prexy of international critics org Fipresci, acts as a consultant to the European Film Awards, helping to select the 40 or so films on its long list.
He says that one challenge is balancing art and commerce.
“Half of us want the very best films from Europe, which probably means art movies, and the other half want the most successful movies,” he says.
He cites the example of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which was popular with audiences but less so with critics.
“You’re never going to say that’s a great film, but it was incredibly successful and enjoyable for a lot of people,” he says.
Another challenge is to make sure the members watch all the films on the long list.
“They obviously don’t, so one way or another some films get missed,” he says.
Another issue Malcolm raises is that many of the films don’t get proper distribution across Europe, even if they do win an award.
But he is convinced that the awards and the academy are worth fighting for.
“The awards should go on if it is at all possible because it would be a tremendous defeat for Europe if they just collapsed entirely. But how do we get more publicity for them, and are we doing them in the right way?,” he asks.
Malcolm says European filmmaking is in a reasonably strong state. “You have to say that Europe still comes up with some very good films, even though there aren’t the auteurs there were in the past. Where’s the new Fassbinder, Visconti or Tarkovsky? You have to be a pretty brave man to be an auteur these days,” he says.
In June, the academy launched a Young Audience Award with juries ages 10-13 in six European cities. They voted Dutch movie “Kauwboy” as their favorite.
“We did this because we think it is important to focus on the next generation of audiences, because if you don’t give them a chance to discover and get a taste for European cinema we will have difficulties in the future.”
As for the future of the academy, Doring would love to boost the membership. “We have 2,700 members now, and it would be great in five years, when we celebrate our 30th anniversary, to have something like 10,000. That is ambitious, but it would be fantastic if all these people felt like they were part of the academy, and saw the importance of doing something for European cinema.”