Politics to Take Center Stage at European Film Awards

Politics to Take Center Stage at European Film Awards

All political displays, even those as innocuous and as simple as a rainbow-colored armband to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community, were banned at this year’s FIFA World Cup ,. Host nation Qatar has spent an estimated $200 billion to stage the biggest show in global sports and any on-air references to its questionable human rights record, treatment of women, migrant workers etc. It would ruin the atmosphere.

As World Cup quarterfinals are being viewed by fans, there will be another show. One where organizers like to wear their politics on the sleeves. Reykjavik, Iceland, some 5,500 miles, and truly a world, away from Doha, will host the 35th European Film Awards (EFAs).

TV ratings — the show will be broadcast in 10 countries and live streamed in 24 — are unlikely to match the soccer tournament. But the European Film Academy is determined to use its platform to take a stand on some of the most hot-button topics of our time, including the global climate crisis, the war in Ukraine and political unrest in Iran.

The European Academy has always been a political organization. In 2016, shortly after the U.S. election of President Donald Trump, then-EFA chair, Oscar-nominated Polish director Agnieszka Holland, opened the awards with an SNL-style political sketch in which she called for the restoration of “democracy and tolerance” to the U.S. In 2019, the evening’s biggest round of applause was for Oleg Senstov, the Ukrainian director imprisoned in Russian on trumped-up charges, who was finally released after five years of political pressure by the European Academy.

Holy Spider

Ali Abassi’s Iran-set ‘Holy Spider‘ is nominated for 4 European Film Awards

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Political speeches are not allowed to be played on the stage at the EFAs. Instead, they receive standing ovations.

Ukraine will be the focus of this year’s attention, which is understandable. The European Film Academy has condemned Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine and was among the first cultural institutions to back a ban on Russian cultural exports. The EFAs this year have excluded Russian films. As a gesture of solidarity with Ukrainian filmmakers, the Eurimages Co-Production Award will be presented to all Ukrainian film producers. This award recognizes excellence in European co-production.

Mike Downey, Chairman of the European Film Academy, described the move as “an expression of strong gratitude for the growing quality in Ukrainian production over the past years and as a sign that ongoing support has been provided now that the infrastructure to support production support within Ukraine is collapsed.”

The European Academy also supports Ukrainian producers in need through an emergency fund managed by the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk, a group set up by the Academy together with the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

The EFAs will be the first to place climate at the center of the event, with the Prix Film4Climate, the inaugural European Sustainability Award. This prize is meant to recognize an “European institution or company that has made a significant contribution to sustainability in the film industry.”

Set up as a partnership between the European Academy and the World Bank Group’s Connect4Climate program, the first Prix Film4Climate will go to the European Commission for its European Green Deal, a set of policy initiatives aimed at making the European Union climate-neutral by 2050. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, will accept the award in Reykjavik.

European Union President Ursula von der Leyen

Finally, expect a good chunk of the 2022 EFA airtime to be devoted to the politics of the Middle East. Holy Spider, a sharp attack on the misogyny of post-revolution Iranian society from Iranian-born Danish director Ali Abassi, is one of the evening’s frontrunners, with four nominations, including for best film, best director and a best actress nom for star Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who is considered a near shoe-in for the win. And for the first time, the EFAs will give its most prestigious prize, the lifetime achievement in European cinema honor, to a Palestinian filmmaker, Elia Suleiman, director of Divine Intervention (2002) and It Must Be Heaven (2019).

Downey noted that Suleiman should be honored in Reykjavik because Iceland was the first Western European country “to recognize the independence [and] diplomatic relations exist between both countries .”

However passionate the speeches may be, the best expressions of EFA politics remain the list of nominated movies. From Marie Kreutzer’s feminist period drama Corsage (nominated for best film, best director and best actress for star Vicky Krieps) to Ruben Ostlund’s capitalist satire Triangle of Sadness (four noms, including for best film and best director), to Alice Diop’s Saint Omer, an examination of systemic racism in France (nominated for best director), progressive messages are everywhere at the 2022 EFAs.

FIFA should pay attention.

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