European film awards promote conversation through cinema
2016-12-01 15:53:01 -
By Séamas McSwiney

European film awards promote conversation through cinema

Though principally known to industry insiders and specialised film enthusiasts, and yet to achieve anything resembling the notoriety of the Oscars, the European Film Awards is the annual prestige event for European cinema.

In their earlier years they had a friendlier name — the Felix Awards — and mostly focused on more obscure arthouse titles. Nowadays, while they’ve dropped the catchy name in favour of the more generic European Film Academy (EFA), the nomination list has become rather more eye-catching than in days of yore. Just like the Oscars, theirs is now a well-honed selection finessed over the six months since Cannes.

Four of the five best film nominations this year go to pictures that had their first international outing at Le Festival in May – Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta and Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann – while Irish director Lenny Abrahamson’s Room was first presented in Telluride and then Toronto in 2015. Except for Abrahamson, all of the same are nominated also for best director, with Christian Mungiu getting the fifth slot in the category for Graduation.

Though it’s hard to see who else should have fallen off the list to make room for the talented Romanian, it’s a shame to see Abrahamson not also get a directorial nod for the conceptual originality and directorial finesse achieved with Room. This is somewhat compensated for by Emma Donoghue’s inclusion in the list of five screenwriting nominations.
One other Irish topic that may capture local media attention is Pierce Brosnan’s EFA European Achievement in World Cinema award.

Box office impact

While Berlin is the home of the EFA Awards, every two years they are located in another European city, and this year, for the 29th edition, the ceremony will take place in Wroclaw in Poland on 10 December.
The nomination lists becoming as predictable as the Oscars, there leaves room to comment on the other great industry interrogation of our times: how well are women and minorities represented here or indeed in the European industry at large?

The response is less than a ringing endorsement for social progress in European film. In this respect, perhaps it is lucky for the EFA that the awards lack a high profile and a need to go with mainstream box office tastes to produce even its minor blips on the media radar.

But as demonstrated at last month’s Seville festival — which programmes about 150 European films from the edgy to the popular — there is a paucity of contenders that reflect some of the bigger migratory questions in contemporary European society. Women in film, on the other hand, figured in all five Seasons and Retrospectives categories in Seville, all of which this year reflect women in film. 

One of these was a retrospective of Vivienne Dick, the Irish feminist experimental and documentary filmmaker. Still not at the top table, but the recent years of women-in-film lobbying is paying off at festival level.
In the end, however, it’s at the box office where the impact is measured. An overview shows almost one billion tickets are sold in European cinemas each year. 

On average, about 30 per cent of these are for the thousand-plus films from the EU 28, and a steady annual seven per cent goes to EU films by non-EU nationals, thanks mainly to Brussels efforts to ensure European films cross borders.
Given that penetration from the US market is 60-95 per cent, depending on the territory, there is room for improvement. The EFA awards also seek to contribute to augmenting this level of cross-border dialogue through cinema.

Séamas McSwiney is a film journalist based in Paris.
TAGS : European Film Award Ireland Cinemas Box Office European Film Academy
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