Cold and rainy weather, rogue planets and the European monetary crisis managed not to cast too dark a pall over the 24th European Film Awards which took place December 3 in Berlin.
European Film Academy president (and an eventual winner this year for his documentary “Pina”) Wim Wenders welcomed the evening’s distinguished guests – including the ministers of cultures from Germany, Austria, Kosovo, Georgia and Estonia (last year’s host nation) – by reminding all why they were in attendance. “Many European summits are being held at this time – this one is different,” he said referring to the recent marathon of Euro crisis meetings. “This represents a more utopian Europe, the Europe of cinema, which is not one of bankers and politicians, but of filmmakers who love movies.”
Bernd Neumann, the German Commissioner for Culture and Media, reiterated similar thoughts before happily noting that his government had recently increased its cultural budget, having realizing “supporting the arts isn’t subsidization but an investment in the future.”
Thankfully, the ceremony was not completely overshadowed by economic concerns. Anke Engelke, Germany’s answer to Chelsea Handler, played master of ceremonies again. Her joke about whether Silvio Berlusconi was coming… “not here but somewhere else,” played well. It was still all in good fun when Engelke accidentally announced the wrong presenter, calling out Sylvie Testud instead of Irene Jacob to take the podium. Slightly bewildered, Testud stepped aside and let Jacob hand off the evening’s first award to Spanish animated film “Chico & Rita.”
“Melancholia” director of photographer Manuel Alberto Claro picked up the Carlo Di Palma European Cinematographer Award, the first of three prizes the movie would win, including production design (Jette Lehmann), and the evening’s big get: European Film 2011. Now shy about public speaking, Lars von Trier was not in attendance to receive his statuette, although his wife accepted on his behalf. “He has no message for you,” she said. “He has decided not to make statements anymore – but asked that I wave to you in a kind and friendly way.”
An unscheduled honory award was presented to French actor and Michel Piccoli ("Belle du Jour," "Contempt" and a nominee for this year's "Habemus Papam") by Bruno Ganz. Taking note of the talent around him, Piccoli pointedly asked directors Volker Schlondorf and Tom Hooper why they have never called him.
For the second time ever, the co-production award was awarded to a woman, Mariela Besuievsky ("The Secret in Their Eyes"), who remarked that when movies succeed, the directors are credited; when they fail, the producers are blamed. Truly grateful, Besuievsky said she was sharing the honors with independent producers everywhere.
Susanne Bier picked up the directing prize for "Hævnen" ("In a Better World," last year's foreign Oscar winner), besting the Dardenne brothers, Aki Kaurismaeki, Béla Tarr and Lars von Trier. To be considered, films must have premiered in European theatrical release between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011; Sony Classics released the film in the U.S. in April of this year.
Colin Firth continued his winning streak for "The King's Speech," although director Tom Hooper accepted the acting prize on his behalf. "The King's Speech" would also go on to win the editing prize (Tariq Anwar) and the People's Choice Award. In receiving it, Hooper referenced the movie's first speech and the looming European threat… this one financial.
Terry Gilliam picked up the short film prize for "The Wholly Family." Screenwriting honors went to Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne for "Le Gamin au Velo" ("The Kid With a Bike"), the Cannes Jury Prize winner forthcoming from Sundance Selects. Fittingly for such a music-heavy film, Ludovic Bource won this year's composing prize for "The Artist," the only award the heavily-favored film received. The actress prize went to Tilda Swinton for "We Need To Talk About Kevin," who beat out the ladies from "Melancholia," including newly-minted German citizen, Kirsten Dunst.
The European Discovery prize was awarded to "Adem" ("Oxygen"), a Dutch/Belgian film about two men struggling with cystic fibrosis and their own mortality. Stellan Skarsgard presented the European Achievement Award to his "King Arthur" co-star and fellow Scandinavian, Mads Mikkelsen, choosing to roast rather than praise the actor. Ruminating about Mikkelsen's appeal, Skarsgard conceded he had an "interesting" face, but stopped short of calling him "good looking." Still, he admitted, there was something compelling about Mikkelsen that would make him buy a ticket to any movie he was in, even if it was "an American remake in 3-D based on a Danish film about the Copenhagen phone book." Mikkelsen returned the compliment by telling Skarsgard he was like a "great-great grandfather" to him.
Director Stephen Frears was honored with this year's Lifetime Achievement prize, which was presented to him by August Diehl and Anouk Aimee. "I am everything you don't approve of. I'm not an auteur, I don't write my own scripts," said Frears by way of thanks. "I make cheerful films because I can't stand misery."
In anticipation of its big night, the European Film Awards weekend opened with a welcome event at the Pan Am Lounge, a 1965 throwback to an era when the venue served as a home-away-from-home for the airline's personnel. Academy president Wenders encouraged guests to informally discuss the state of the organization, itself conceived in a Berlin hotel room in 1988. "Since the very beginning, the European Film Academy has stood for curiosity, freedom of artistic expression and cultural exchange," he said, before abandoning his script and opening the floor to questions and comments.
Producer Nik Powell, who also serves as the Academy's deputy chair and director of the National Film and Television School, noted that while the past 24 years haven't been flawless, the Academy's stumbling blocks are like those that burden other unified entities. "The difficulties of European Film Academy reflect the same growing pangs of the European venture as a whole," he said. "You have many different traditions and many different ways of thinking or meeting together." Ultimately, said Powell, the purpose of the Academy and its prize is to "get great work to as many people as possible. It's not a backslapping exercise of filmmakers."
Powell hoped that this year's nominated films would be especially enticing to American audiences who aren't as likely to stay abreast of the Academy's doings. "It's one of those coincidental years when some of the masters of European cinema have delivered work at the top of their game," he said.
The 2012 awards ceremony will take place in Malta.
Full list of European Film Award winners:
European Film 2011: "Melancholia" Dir. Lars von Trier
European Director 2011: Susanne Bier for "In a Better World"
European Actress 2011: Tilda Swinton in "We Need To Talk About Kevin"
Euopean Actor 2011: Colin Firth in "The King's Speech"
Euopean Screenwriter 2011: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne for "The Kid with a Bike"
Carlo Di Palma European Cinematographer Award 2011: Manuel Alberto Claro for "Melancholia"
European Documentary 2011: "Pina," Dir. Wim Wenders
European Achievement in Cinema 2011: Mads Mikkelson
EFA Lifetime Achievement Award: Stephen Frears
European Co-production Award Prix Eurimages: Mariela Besuievsky
European Animated Feature Film 2011: "Chico & Rita" Dir. Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal & Fernando Trueba
European Editor 2011: Tariq Anwar for "The King's Speech"
European Production Design: Jette Lehmann for "Melancholia"
European Composer: Ludovic Bource for "The Artist"
European Discovery – PRIX FIPRESCI: "Oxygen" (Belgium/Netherlands) Dir. Hans Van Nuffel
People's Choice Award: "The King's Speech"
EFA Short Film Award: "The Wholly Family"