The real pandemic in our business started before the pandemic, argue panellists at the EFAs
by Marta Bałaga
- Agnieszka Holland, Mark Cousins, Kirsten Niehuus and Thomas Vinterberg gathered online to kickstart “The EFAs at Eight”
During a panel on 8 December – organised as part of “The EFAs at Eight”online celebrations and called, rather optimistically, “From Survival to Revival: Building the Post-COVID Future” (see the news) – former European Film Awards chairwoman Agnieszka Holland, CEO of film funding at Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg Kirsten Niehuus, Danish director Thomas Vinterberg and Mark Cousins, the recipient of the new EFA Award for Innovative Storytelling, discussed this year's biggest struggles.
“For the first time, I don't have any plans except for Zoom meetings that I am starting to get allergic to,” admitted Holland. “I was following several reality shows, and by that I mean the news, and for me, reality is winning over fiction right now.”
But even in such trying times, there were several success stories to share, including Cousins' documentary Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema [+see also:
film profile] (“It felt like time stretched like mozzarella, and the idea of an epic form of storytelling, in this case 14 hours, was suddenly attractive,” he said) as well as Vinterberg's Another Round [+see also:
film profile], a box-office success in his native Denmark (see the news). “We were nervous about sending out this movie about four drunk men celebrating alcohol in times of confinement. But people are storming the cinemas, and they come back many times, with a bag of beers,” he noted. “We have to remind them about this experience of sitting in a cinema and witnessing moments, characters and situations, and hearing the gasps in the room.”
While Kirsten Niehuus wished the funds could actually stay a bit “abnormal”, sticking to a more collective approach, the participants wondered about the future of public funding. “Without it, independent European cinema is just dead,” said Holland. “Now is the time to wake up and figure out how to renovate our approach to financing cinema, distribution and content.” Cousins added: “We know places that don't have any public funding for cinema, like the USA, and we can see the weakness that comes with it: the lack of understanding of your own society. The case for it is stronger than it has ever been in my lifetime.” Vinterberg also underlined its importance: “Making a movie about child abuse or a celebration of alcohol would be impossible without public funding. It allows us to be on thin ice.”
Still, as pointed out by the Danish helmer, “The real pandemic in our business started before the pandemic,” with the streaming platforms taking over and their algorithms revealing “conservatism, mediocrity and artistic laziness”. As well as managing to attract younger viewers, which, according to Holland, is a troubling tendency. “We started losing the younger generation a long time ago. Platforms anticipated this tendency and started to produce a lot of content that cinemas are not offering – when you talk to Netflix executives, they are really interested in doing things for young adults.”
If we don't create the platform while responding to our cultural needs in Europe, we will be colonised, she argued, mentioning that this might be the last possible moment to be creative about it. “I have worked with Netflix and HBO, and they were generous; they gave me a lot of freedom, but soon, they won't be interested in supporting us. Just in taking advantage of us, or “inviting” us, to be nicer,” she said. “Unfortunately, the biggest festivals like Cannes kicked them out. It was so stupid – I felt like I was watching Kodak executives being so arrogant about technological changes. Back then, they needed us. Today, they don't.”
One possible solution? It's a simple one: better movies. “In Europe, we are making a lot of ‘decent’ movies and very few great ones, let's admit it. But you don't attract people with mediocre movies,” she said. “We have to be more courageous and more relevant. That we can do.”
“It will be difficult, but it's healthy – even at the finest festivals, you get a sense of repetition. We need a kick in the butt as well,” agreed Vinterberg, with Cousins listing Leviathan [+see also:
film profile], Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and the works of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lucile Hadžihalilović, Radu Jude and Roy Andersson as examples of an innovative approach.
“The question is, how many innovators do we need? How do we make sure that they don't get lost?” he wondered, also stressing that it's possible to love cinema in all sorts of ways. “When I go to the cinema, it's like dancing, swimming or climbing a hill – I surrender to the experience entirely. At home, I don't do that. We, as human beings, we know we need to lose ourselves. But we can have our prayer mat and our Friday mosque.”
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