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Marion Döring • Director, European Film Academy

“There is no other industry in Europe that feels as united as we do”


- European Film Academy director Marion Döring talks to us about the achievements of the European Film Awards in the run-up to their 30th ceremony, to be held on 9 December in Berlin

Marion Döring • Director, European Film Academy

European Film Academy director Marion Döring talks to us about the achievements of the European Film Awards in the run-up to their 30th ceremony, set to be held on 9 December in Berlin (see the news).

Cineuropa: What would you say has been the biggest accomplishment of the European Film Awards during the last 30 years?
Marion Döring:
When they were presented for the first time in Berlin in November 1988, on a then still-divided continent, the most frequently asked questions we had to face were: "Why do we need a European Film Award?" and "Does European cinema really exist?" Neither of these questions are being asked any more today, and we take this as a positive sign that the European Film Awards are indeed a successful and sustained contribution to a common understanding that European cinema does exist and that we need an annual ceremony bringing us all together to celebrate and to promote outstanding films and achievements in European cinema to the audience. Although it has been a long process - which isn't finished yet and may even never be finished - the perception of the European Film Awards, and also of European cinema as such, has definitely changed.

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Since the first Best European Film (A Short Film About Killing, 1988) right up until the latest one (Toni Erdmann [+see also:
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, 2016), how has European cinema evolved?

In 1988, European cinema had a very weak presence on the screens, which is why on the eve of the first European Film Awards ceremony, a group of filmmakers assembled in a hotel suite in Berlin and decided to found a European Film Academy. Making films in Europe in the late 1980s often meant fighting lonesome battles, and the European Film Academy became something like a shelter to filmmakers from the East and West, where they could meet and exchange experiences and plans. Co-production was not yet on the European agenda so much, and Eurimages had just taken up its work. There was a desperate need for films to get exposure outside their own territories, which led to the foundation of the EFDO (European Film Distribution Office), which later became European Film Promotion. And the European Commission established the MEDIA Programme. Today, nobody could imagine not being part of this huge European network. We all feel like natural members of it, and cooperation across borders has become our daily life. I don't think there is any other industry or community in Europe that feels as connected and united as we do. 

What are the biggest challenges that the European Film Awards face in order to unify all of the different languages, cultures and so on?
My take on it is that the situation has much improved over the years. Our film industries and cultures may be different, but our lengthy cooperation experience has definitely helped us to understand each other better and to follow what's going on in other countries with a degree of empathy. We've become natural citizens of the European film universe, and there are many cultural, political and social developments that we share nowadays. And we have also got used to our charming broken English. We have adopted it as the working language of the European film industry, and even though we sometimes speak with funny accents, we are able to communicate with each other directly. Nevertheless, at the European Film Awards, we very much appreciate it when award winners say a few words in their mother tongue before they switch to English. It is always nice to listen to the different languages, but it is also good that we are able to understand each other through one common language without having to sit through a ceremony with earphones, like at a big conference, and listen to the voices of interpreters instead of the original version, which is much more authentic and personal.

The awards are a reflection of the tastes of the academy members, but not just that - every year, you call on film professionals to help you to select the nominated films. How does this work, exactly?
Once we meet in Berlin on Saturday 9 December for the 30th European Film Awards, the films and individual achievements will have gone through a complex selection and nomination process. This process has developed over the years and tries to match the diversity of our European film culture and industry as much as possible. It is built on the experience of film professionals on every level. This starts with the Feature Film Selection, where 20 feature films are voted in directly by the members in the 20 countries with the most members, while for the remaining 30 features, the EFA board is responsible, supported by a group of experts, such as festival directors or programmers and film critics. The EFA members are then the voting body for the nominations in the categories of film, director, screen writer, actress and actor, while in other categories - such as animated feature film, discovery and comedy - we work with nomination committees whose members are either members of the EFA or experts from other associations, like Cartoon or FIPRESCI. And the winners of the seven Excellence Awards are decided by a seven-member jury composed of representatives of each profession. And, of course, geographical diversity is a must: no two members within any committee or jury are from the same country.

The EFA's role is always compared to the US Academy - but is this logical, when the two contexts are extremely different? Do the European Film Awards really aim to mimic the media juggernaut that is the Oscars ceremony?
Of course we are different! And it is definitely not us who compare the EFAs to the US Academy! From day one, we've repeatedly explained that these are completely different universes, but for some reason some media outlets, even today, refer to us as "The European Oscars". Luckily, this is happening less and less often, which hopefully shows that they might have finally understood. I think in most cases, the comparison is made owing to pure laziness or a lack of reflection. When you say "European Oscars", everybody understands immediately that this is an awards ceremony, independently of what and who is being awarded. In the public's perception, "Oscar" stands for glamour and is often misused, also in other contexts. It is really amusing to see how many industries, a million miles away from all the glamour and the fame, have their own "Oscars" or "walks of fame". Over the years, we have developed our own formula for our ceremonies, which are marked more by the human atmosphere of a big pan-European film family gathering than by glamour. In particular, young filmmakers and nominees, who are attending our ceremony for the first time, often say how surprised they are about the relaxed and unpretentious nature of the European Film Awards.

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