Europe’s emotion in film
Deep in the bowels of the former knights’ hospital in Valletta, a dedicated team are working on a plan to “infect” Malta with love for European cinema.
“We hope in the long-term to set off a virus that will make the Maltese want to see more films from Europe,” said Marion Döring, director of the European Film Academy (EFA).
For the past few weeks, Ms Döring and her team have been preparing for Saturday’s European Film Awards at Valletta’s Mediterranean Conference Centre (MCC), once the Sacra Infermeria of the Knights of St John.
Actress Helen Mirren and director Bernardo Bertolucci will be among the stars attending the awards, known as ‘Europe’s Oscars’.
“A lot of great film-makers will be coming to Malta. They are potential clients for the future who may return here to shoot movies,” said Ms Döring, as she discussed the benefits of the island hosting the awards for the first time.
Ms Döring said Maltese film-lovers need to look beyond the English language films which dominate the local box office.
“If they do not watch films in other languages they miss out on a lot of wonderful stories about people in Europe. These films are virtual journeys that help audiences understand the continent they belong to, the concerns of the people, what these people love, what makes them scared,” she said.
“By ignoring them you miss this wonderful diversity we have in Europe. Films tell stories, and the more stories you can see or hear, the richer you become.”
She admitted that the clout of Hollywood studios meant it was an uphill struggle for films not in English to be commercial successes.
In France, European films that are not in the native language make up nine per cent of the box office, but the percentage falls to 1.3 per cent in Spain.
“Unfortunately, many European actors still feel they must move to Hollywood,” Ms Döring said, citing the examples of the Spanish trio Javier Bardem, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.
“That is something we have to change if we want a bigger market for European films because actors are the ones that get people to the cinema.”
She recalled reading an interview with Helen Mirren, in which the Oscar-winning British actress lamented that so many wonderful actors did not receive the recognition they deserved simply because they did not perform in English.
Nevertheless, French films such Amélie (2001) and The Intouchables (2011) have proved that European films can stay true to their roots and still be a commercial successes, Ms Döring pointed out.
While each European country has its own unique film culture, “there is something in common,” Ms Döring said.
“Stories told in Europe, unlike major American cinema, go into the depths of human beings.
“They don’t always give us an easy solution. We don’t have the big hero in European films who is always the winner at the end. Very often the loser is the hero,” Ms Döring said.
In that sense European films are not always comfortable to watch. The European Film Awards are the main tool for promoting the continent’s best film talents, but it also lobbies hard in Brussels to have the importance of cinema recognised.
“Films are the best way to understand and celebrate the emotional side of Europe,” Ms Döring said.
As for Saturday’s awards ceremony, Ms Döring said the MCC venue is the most beautiful location to have hosted the awards in 25 years. “It is the perfect place to celebrate this anniversary.”