Actors Vincent Lindon and Pilar Lopez de Ayala announcing the EFA nominations
Séamas McSwiney takes in the wealth of European films at the Seville European Film Festival.
Among the many festivals of European Cinema that now take place across the continent each year, the Seville European Film Festival (SEFF) can annually claim to be the temporary capital of European cinema for 9 days in November: apart from its programming about 150 mostly new European films, the European Film Academy has chosen this venue to announce its key nominations in advance the EFA Awards. Berlin is the home of the European Film Academy and it is there every two years that the annual awards take place in early December; on alternate years they happen in another European city. This year’s 29th EFA Awards take place in Wroclaw in Poland on Dec 10th and in 2018, it has just been announced, they will take place in Seville, upping their EU film credentials another notch.
The EFA Awards have yet to achieve anything resembling the notoriety of the Oscars and are principally know to industry insiders and specialised film enthusiasts. In its earlier years they had a friendlier name —they were called the Felix Awards— and mostly focused on more obscure art-house titles. Nowadays, while they’ve dropped the catchy name in favour of the more generic euro moniker —the European Film Awards— the nomination list has become rather more eye-catching than in days of yore. Just like the Oscars, it is now a well-honed list finessed over the six months since Cannes.
Four of the five best film nominations this year go to films that had their first international outing at Le Festival in May: Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, Almodovar’s Julieta and Marne 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 for Graduation getting the fifth slot in the category. 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. See the full list of European Film Awards nominations here: http://www.europeanfilmawards.
Seville shows an interesting mix of new European films including many that would not have achieved the notoriety that the serious EFA Award contenders have. There are thirteen competition sections and five Seasons & Retrospectives, 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 presenting a total of twelve short and medium length films in three programmes from a 40-year career. The films ranged from her 1978 opus Staten Island up to the more recent The Irreducible Difference of the Other.
The other Irish inclusion was Blinder Films/Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship in the Official Selection.
There was also a section dedicated to the ‘long list’ of EFA nominations that was offered up for an audience prize, taken by Maren Ade’s Cannes-neglected Toni Erdmann, also a favourite to pick up most prizes at the December Awards.
Siobhan and Terry in Europe, She Loves, (Jan Gassman)
Among the other less-known films in this section was Europe, She Loves, by Jan Gassman from Switzerland: a compelling trans-continental montage of four interweaving observational dramas whose press-kit logline reads: “Europe on the verge of social and economic change. A close up into the shaken vision of four couples, daily struggles, fights, kids, sex and passion. A movie about the politics of love.”
The film in fact portrays the day-to-day lives of four couples living on the perimeters of Europe, flitting to and fro from Thessaloniki to Seville to Tallinn to Dublin, capturing intimate moments and longings of four young couples. Their issues are different but similar, and Gassman’s directorial eye captures and imprisons them in the obsessive bubble that is their couple. Other characters come and go and complement aspects of their mostly banal lives, but it is almost as if these mostly off-camera characters were incidental props. The film is a tender portrait of frustration in today’s Europe, imaginatively shot and deftly edited in telling fragments. Sex and drugs are a constant. In the Seville and Thessaloniki narratives it is the young woman who hankers for something better, to leave and see what life might be like elsewhere, while in Talinn a youthful recomposed family is asked, and asks, many questions about modern parenthood. The Dublin couple, Siobhan and Terry, (pictured above) have different dilemmas and gradually show themselves to have a much greater potential to live and love than the earlier sequences of druggy destitution suggest —shades of Adam & Paul but completely different. The overall composite theme or set of issues in Europe, She Loves are commonplace but the film itself is particularly uncommon: it is clearly acted and directed, yet was first presented at the Berlinale as a documentary and any (cursory) search for the names of the actors yields… nothing but first names. Mixed critical reactions makes this film a must-see from amongst the more than a thousand European fiction films made each year.
For these European films, and all other films released in Europe, almost one billion tickets are sold in cinemas each year. On average about 30% of these tickets are for the thousand plus EU28 films, and a steady annual 7% of this goes to non-national EU films, thanks mainly to the Creative Europe efforts to ensure European films cross borders. The EFA awards also seek to contribute to augmenting this level of cross border dialogue through cinema.
Another interesting statistic is that France and Ireland, as well as having the highest birth rates in the EU, have the highest per capita levels of cinema attendance. But nobody comes near the French in terms of the 300 films produced annually and the actual 200m tickets sold there.
The French leadership in European cinema was also reflected in the awards in Seville this year, pretty much all of the prizes were awarded to French or French co-produced films. Yet another reason to encourage more film cooperation between France and Ireland (despite the fact that Ireland is the only EU28 country that does not have a bi-lateral coproduction agreement with France).
LIST OF WINNERS at the SEVILLA EUROPEAN FILM FESTIVAL 2016