This week, the European Parliament recognised three outstanding European films for the LUX Audience Award: “Collective” by Alexander Nanau, “Corpus Christi” by Jan Komasa, and “Another Round” by Thomas Vinterberg. We, as the jury behind the front line, have done our very best to come up with nominations that reflect the beauty and diversity of our European cinema and which have strong and appealing stories to tell to audiences across the continent.
The journey of the last sixteen long pandemic months to bring the LUX Audience Award to life under uncertain conditions is one which, as Honorary President of the LUX jury, has been a valuable, complex and sometimes arduous mission. And that’s just organising an awards event.
Imagine what the struggles and difficulties are like for those good soldiers of cinema who have been continuing to fight for their projects and produce films under even more arduous conditions. I salute all filmmakers who have the courage of their artistic convictions and are daily battling on against the odds in the name of art.
Without cinema itself, the film and the film artists, there are no festivals, cinemas, streamers or any of the ancillary activity that goes to support the work and the artists. So, it is here that we have to first look to provide much needed assistance to producers and ensure our artists are supported in a transitional phase to get into the new stage of production, and allow the life-cycle of a film and its filmmakers to begin again, then the rest can follow.
But we need to be clear that the rest of the industry needs to work to support this first principle, everything else can be rebuilt from there. As Shakespeare so appositely put it: the play‘s the thing.
A continent that is starved of access to the seventh art in the place where it was originally intended to be seen – in a dark room, with a big screen and in the company of strangers. It is this audience that the LUX prize is intended for and is intended to reach out and inspire. And in the times we live in, never has such an award been more critical and crucial.
We recognise the importance of critics and experts, but equally we recognise the ability of the audience to be the honest and genuine litmus test of so many possibilities for the cinema, and for European cinema in particularly, which is so important to breathe some life, some hope, some humanity back into the lives of people who have suffered to much in recent times.
And this year with the bringing together of two awards, the LUX Prize and the EFA People’s Choice Award, and merging them into the LUX Audience Award, we are not only blending together two established awards and turning them into an even stronger, new one. We are also joining forces: the European Film Academy, the European Parliament, the European Commission and Europa Cinemas as key supporters and defenders of the European film industry and its culture.
I do not believe in coincidences. What may look like a coincidence is in reality most of the time the result of a number of prior developments. I am therefore convinced that it is no coincidence our common journey through the troubled Covid – and hopefully soon post-Covid – landscape of European cinema can be aided and abetted by awards like this.
Indeed, this confluence of acronyms has come together at a moment when reaching out to the audience will be more important than ever.
As a filmmaker who has made almost 100 feature films in my comparatively short 20-year long career at the coal face of production – whose films have won upwards of 250 awards – I also see it from the other side. I am not like that self-styled Good Soldier of Cinema of that European new wave who tersely said, “my films are not racehorses”.
No, awards are crucial to what we do. Awards are a motivational tool that keep you going in the dark days when no-one is watching. Besides being a mark of excellence, awards help boost our morale and help our artists fight harder and achieve bigger, greater accomplishments. Awards help encourage people to give their best, express empowerment and take thoughtful risks.
And of all awards nothing gives a filmmaker more joy, more intensity of pleasure and more satisfaction than receiving an award from the public. This represents the ultimate accolade.
Good films can animate us like oxygen and we need, indeed, a lot of oxygen in these times, not only because we are breathing most of the day behind masks, but even more so because we have as a community of Europeans still many mountains to climb and obstacles to overcome and overcome them together we shall.
The LUX Audience Award will play its part in the rebuilding of our decimated exhibition and distribution business, and give hope to film makers, artists, technicians and crew in the front line, that the sacrifices they are making today, will have meaning and value somewhere down the line, in a world that, hopefully, will be very very different to that which we face today.
But let’s not dwell only on the negatives. There are some positive aspects to take away from the experience of this last year and a half: for sure, the levels of solidarity between not only filmmakers but between the different disciplines in the process chain have never been more intense. We know that we can look forward to less travelling in the future: good news for this beautiful planet of ours.
We need to keep the balance between avoiding climate damage and the importance of social gatherings – we are a naturally gregarious industry. And then there is the sense of renewal, of renewed anticipation – the anticipation of partaking in that great elemental experience of being in a large cinema with a good size audience, and as the lights darken, that feeling in the stomach that you are about to go on a journey into the unknown. That experience can only take place in the cinema and it will never disappear from our cultural landscape.
It would be stating the obvious, however, that the European film industry is most probably facing the most radical change in history – and the questions we must ask ourselves over the coming months need to seriously focus on how we can avoid irreparable damage and turn the challenge into a sustainable future for our industry.
This having been said: there are massive challenges and hurdles to overcome. But I believe that the industry is resilient, strong and stubborn, and is willing to fight for its survival. With the help of national governments, regional funds and the European Union, the brick walls will for sure crumble. And we will come home safely through to the other side. It’s just a matter of time.
But as we begin to emerge into what we hope might be the downhill curve of this pandemic, the time has come to reflect, pick up the pieces and start to put back together our shattered industry, perhaps in a way that can make it stronger, more durable and hopefully creatively successful, financially rewarding and perhaps renewed, invigorated and, for sure, somehow different than before.
We should not advocate running before we can walk, but the gradual return to normality needs to take place over time, and will roll out differently in Iceland than it will in Ireland. The cost of human life is dear, and the film industry must continue to play its part in continuing to protect lives.
Mike Downey is an Irish film producer who is Chairman of the European Film Academy and Honorary President of the LUX Audience Award.
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