The European Film Academy handed off its top prize to Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer," just one of the six honors the movie took home on Saturday night. The European Film Awards took place this year in Tallinn, Estonia and was hosted once again by German comedian Anke Engelke along with young Estonian actor Maert Avandi. Local attendance of the black-tie affair at the Nokia Concert Hall included Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia, Tallinn's mayor Egdar Savisaar and a number of the nation's ministers - financial, cultural and otherwise.
Although British Easy Jetters have come to know Tallinn as the Vegas of Europe, the city, whose origins date back to medieval times, was named European Capital of Culture for 2011 (along with Tarku, Finland). Tallinn also plays host each year to the Black Nights Film Festival, a two-week celebration of Baltic and international cinema, so called because of the region's long winter nights. In fact, the culmination of the 14th annual Black Nights Festival dovetailed with the unofficial kick-off to the European Film Awards: An EFA welcome event Friday in the city's Rotermann Quarter, the setting of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1980 film "Stalker," segued into the Black Nights' "underground" closing night party, held in a subterranean parking lot.
"This beautiful city has merged history and modernity in a very unique way," said Wim Wenders, president of the European Film Academy, in his introductory remarks at Saturday's ceremony. Wenders went on to praise the city's hospitality, which included inviting EFA's guests to join locals in their own homes for lunch - a first in the Academy's history. "Incredibly charming and as I understand, very Estonian," he said.
Composer Alexandre Desplat picked up the first award of the night - and the first in a string of wins for "The Ghost Writer." Cinematography honors went to Giora Bejach for his tight camera work in "Lebanon." The Animated Feature Film prize went to Sylvain Chomet's "The Illusionist."
Robert Harris and Roman Polanski won the screenwriting award for "The Ghost Writer." Although in Paris, Polanski was revealed to be watching the show via Skype (an application developed in Estonia, no less) and thanked the Academy for the honor. Harris thanked the crowd in person, expressing his excitement in halting Estonian, which he said he had been practicing. Polanski, who had luckily maintained his Skype connection, was immediately on again to receive the directing prize for "The Ghost Writer" and appeared online once more for the evening's big win when "The Ghost Writer" won for European Film 2010.
Editing honors went to Luc Barnier and Marion Monnier for their work on Olivier Assayas' "Carlos." (Monnier, who shares credit with Barnier for the masterpiece, revealed in the press room that she was in fact responsible for the five-and-a-half hour miniseries and not the 140-minute theatrical cut.) Albrecht Konrad was named European Production Designer for "The Ghost Writer," besting the only Estonian EFA nominees, Markku Paetilae and Jaagup Roomet, up for "The Temptation of St. Tony."
"Mr. Nobody" written and directed by Jaco van Dormael, won the People's Choice Award, up-ending the tradition of the past few years in which the prize has gone to known quantities like "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."
"I have a feeling that making a film is like sending a message in a bottle and throwing it into the sea," said van Dormael accepting his award. "So it's magical when you receive a message back." Whether that message will reach American audience remains to be seen: The film, which stars Jared Leto and Sarah Polley, has already screened at Toronto and Venice, but has yet to find distribution in the U.S.
"Nostalgia for the Light," about the political prisoners who went missing during Pinochet's dictatorship, picked up the Prix Arte for documentaries. "Hanoi-Warsaw," a short from Poland about illegal immigration won EFA's Short Film Award. French actress Sylvie Testud won the European Actress prize for her work as a wheelchair-bound pilgrim in "Lourdes."
This year's European Discovery trophy went to Samuel Maoz for "Lebanon," a fictionalized account of his own experiences as a soldier. "It is a bit unusual to be discovered when you're close to 50," grinned Maoz in gratitude. "I guess the message is it's never too late."
Ewan McGregor received the European Actor Award for "The Ghost Writer." Unable to attend since he was filming in Thailand, McGregor sent a prepared video message in case he did win: "If I have won, can someone in the audience who knows me email me and let me know?" he asked.
Turkish producer Zeynep Oezbatur Atakan was honored with the Prix Eurimages, the European Co-production Award. Juliette Binoche presented composer Gabriel Yared with the Achievement in World Cinema Award, singling out his long relationship with the late director Anthony Minghella. EFA President Wenders presented his frequent collaborator Bruno Ganz with this year's Lifetime Achievement Award.
Ganz, who is probably best known to millions for his Xbox and "Avatar" tirades in YouTube parodies of "Downfall," gamely joined director Wenders in conversation on Saturday afternoon at the Solaris Cinemas. (The discussion was held in English, although it is neither man's first language.) Ganz did not address his Internet fame, but he did discuss his preference for making movies "Wim's way," which he described as a "Let's try it, let's do it" mentality. "It keeps you alive," he explained. Wenders concurred that he was always happy to let his actors work in the moment, no matter what the script originally calls for.
When asked, Ganz demurred from selecting which of his many movies was his favorite. "I don't have a personal ranking. Once it's released, it belongs to the audience," he said. "I don't even have all of them on DVD." But later, when "Wings of Desire" came up in conversation, Ganz confessed to having a special fondness for that film. "It's now a documentary about the history of Berlin," he marveled about the changes the city has since gone through. "It's the only documentary with angels in it," laughed Wenders.
Behind the scenes, the event went smoothly despite the bad weather that diverted flights (and attendees) all across the continent. For 2011, the European Film Awards will return to Berlin where it is held every other year.
[The full list of European Film Awards winners are available here.]