“Europe is a very important location for contemporary work” said renowned artist and Human Flow director Ai Weiwei on the red carpet at this year’s European Film Awards, and the exhaustive list of films nominated at this year’s ceremony certainly backs him up. On Saturday December 9th, our Podcasters Jake and Sam left a cold London for an even colder Berlin to cover the European Film Awards. Last year the word on everyone’s lips was ‘Brexit’, and an uncertain future for Europe hung over the acceptance speeches. This year was the 30th annual ceremony, and whilst there were important discussions of the recent wave of sexual abuse revelations in the industry and the rise of Nationalism across Europe, there was also a sense of celebration and reflection in the air.
Before our team arrived at the awards they went on a cinema tour across Berlin; from the recently opened independent art-house Wolf to the offices of Yorck, Berlin’s largest cinema operator. Wolf operates as a cinema, a café, a Q&A space and even has its own editing suite for filmmakers. “People say to me I’d love to come to Wolf tomorrow” beams owner Verena Von Stackelberg “but I’ve seen everything you’re showing! It’s such a nice feeling”.
“It has been a thriving market for the past 40 years” says Daniel Sibbers, marketing manager for Yorck, on the state of independent cinema in Berlin. “There were some bumps, the 2000’s especially were really hard, but at this moment it’s a good time for independent cinema in Berlin”. Berlin is a cinephile’s paradise. Daniel is right that the city is packed with cinemas, both independent and mainstream, and there is also the Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin’s film museum which tracks through German cinematic history from the birth of the camera, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, cinema under Nazi rule, New German Cinema, right up to last year’s Toni Erdmann.
On the subject of Toni Erdmann, the stars of last years big EFA winner Peter Simonischek and Sandra Huller made their way down the red carpet before the awards alongside some of the biggest names in contemporary European cinema. Stellan Skarsgard, Jack Raynor and Stephen Frears all arrived to present awards, along with the nominees themselves; Yorgos Lanthimos of Killing of a Sacred Deer, the actor and writer/director of The Square Claes Bang and Ruben Östlund respectively, Paula Beer from Frantz and Nahuel Perez Biscayat from 120BPM amongst many others.
While Toni Erdmann swept the board last year, the big hit this year was Ruben Östlund’s The Square, taking home six awards: Screenwriter, Director, Actor, Comedy Feature and Feature. The European Film Academy has a record of predicting the Best Foreign Language Oscar, with previous winners Ida, The Great Beauty and Amour going on to win the Academy Award, but with Toni Erdmann losing out to Asghar Farhardi’s The Salesman, only time will tell if The Square will follow suit.
In other competitive awards, newcomer Alexandra Borbély gave an emotional speech after receiving the award for European Actress for her role in On Body and Soul, Communion from Poland took home European Documentary and the hard work, time and effort that went into the hand painted animation Loving Vincent paid off as Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman were awarded the prize for European Animation. Although Florence Pugh missed out on the European Actress award, Lady Macbeth’s Director William Oldroyd took to the stage to receive the European Discovery award.
The Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Alexandr Sokurov, whose seminal masterpiece Russian Ark was shown in all its one-take glory at Yorck’s Delphi Lux cinema. The recipient of the European Achievement in World Cinema 2017 was Julie Delpy, who used her acceptance speech as an opportunity to tell the room how her next film as director has been put on hold after a financier pulled out last minute “for the wrong reason… I had to hear that women are emotional. That’s probably the reason they ended up pulling out, because they were scared of an emotional female director”. “I’m getting this award for surviving in this business for thirty years, that’s my achievement” she proposed, “…and for keeping my integrity every step of the way”.
The awards proved that Europe is still, as Ai Weiwei pointed out, an important location for contemporary work. From the bold satire of The Square, the hypnotic intensity of Loveless, the pumping energy and heart of 120 BPM, the twisted comedy of The Killing of a Sacred Deer to the tender humanity of The Other Side of Hope, the importance of European cinema has never been more evident.
To hear a round up of all the nominations and awards, as well as interviews with Lady Macbeth and Ethel and Ernest directors William Oldroyd and Roger Mainwood, listen to our podcast below: