New European Film Academy Chairman Mike Downey to Reach Out to Other Film Academies (EXCLUSIVE)

Irish producer Mike Downey, who was recently elected as chairman of the board of the European Film Academy, has told Variety that he’d like to work more closely with other film academies, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as continuing EFA’s work as a campaigner for persecuted filmmakers.

Downey, CEO of Film and Music Entertainment, had previously served as EFA’s deputy chairman, and takes the baton as chairman from Polish director Agnieszka Holland, who has been at the helm for the past six years.

He told Variety: “I’ve just returned from the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, run by our sister organization the Asia Pacific Screen Academy. We have much in common and support many of the same principles and goals. I’d like to reach out to our colleagues around the world, in Asia, the U.S. – and along with our European colleagues build on the things that we have in common and share rather than the things that separate us.”

As well as supporting and promoting European films and filmmakers, he said he wanted his mandate to be “marked by a continuation of our campaigning work in the service of filmmakers at risk.” Downey and Holland had worked tirelessly to free Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was held in a Russian jail for five years. Sentsov, who was freed in September as part of a prisoner swap, appeared onstage on Saturday at the European Film Awards in Berlin.

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Downey said: “It is time to take stock. Learn from this experience, of when the freedom of artists and filmmakers is arbitrarily taken away, and use that experience to know how to react if something like this happens again in the future.”

He added that – for this reason – EFA, along with the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam and the International Film Festival Rotterdam, is “joining forces to create the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk, a permanent organization aimed at supporting filmmakers facing political persecution for their work.”

He said: “The body will advocate for film professionals who have been imprisoned, face prosecution or censorship for their work and views. The final framework is still being developed but its remit would include running coordinated campaigns publicizing the cases of filmmakers in peril as well as providing support, legal representation and whatever is needed to get the artist to the safest possible place at that time.”

He said that “whenever an attack on the freedom of filmmakers takes place,” EFA must “react with speed, precision and compassion” to support them, and “in doing so demonstrate that these kind of abuses will not pass without a vigorous response.”

He also said his mission would be “to make all aspects of sustainability not only of EFA itself but also the European film industry a priority” and “to extend the idea of gender balance, not just concentrating on the director of a film, but on supporting and encouraging gender balance across the board in every department.”

As a result of the board elections, Downey is joined by two new deputies, British producer Rebecca O’Brien, Ken Loach’s producing partner, and Romanian producer Ada Solomon (“Child’s Pose,” “Aferim!”). Other board members elected include Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur (“Adrift”), Oscar nominated Irish director Jim Sheridan (“In the Name of the Father,” “My Left Foot”), and Polish producer Ewa Puszczyńska, an Oscar winner with “Ida.”

The full EFA board, as of Jan. 1, 2020, is as follows:
Mike Downey, producer, Ireland

Deputy chairwomen:
Rebecca O’Brien, producer, UK
Ada Solomon, producer, Romania

Board members:
Graziella Bildesheim, institutional, Italy
Àngela Bosch Rius, producer, Spain
Tilde Corsi, producer, Italy
Valérie Delpierre, producer, Spain
Mike Goodridge, producer, UK
Vanessa Henneman, talent agent, Netherlands
Anita Juka, producer, Croatia
Henning Kamm, producer, Germany
Baltasar Kormákur, director, Iceland
Christophe Leparc, festival, France
Ewa Puszczyńska, producer, Poland
Katriel Schory, institutional, Israel
Jim Sheridan, director, Ireland
Joanna Szymańska, producer, Poland
Béatrice Thiriet, composer, France
Ira von Gienanth, producer/distributor, Germany

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