Unity Through Diversity
The LUX European Film Prize: an interview with jury member and producer Klaus Maeck
In October 2008, the Dardenne Brothers' gritty film 'The Silence of Lorna' (Le Silence de Lorna) became the second winner of the European Parliament's LUX Prize, awarded once only before 'The Edge of Heaven' (Auf der Anderen Seite) by German-Turkish director Fatih Akin. The Prize was established in 2007 with the aim of facilitating the diffusion of European films within the European Union; the LUX prizewinning film is subtitled and recorded in the 23 official EU languages, and the original version is subtitled for the deaf and hard of hearing. The prize is so named after the Latin word for light, and is focussed on breaking down barriers - financial, linguistic or otherwise - that stand in the way of Europe-wide distribution of cultural objects. According to the LUX organisers, the motif of a celluloid reel spiralling upwards is a reference to the Tower of Babel and symbolises a shared European identity; 'linguistic plurality and cultural diversity brought together in one and the same place and with one and the same ambition.' The selection process is as unique as the prize itself: over a three month period, 17 film festival directors, distributors, producers and critics compile a list of ten European films of the past year which are then further shortlisted to three films that 'illustrate the European integration process, topical European issues or cultural diversity in the Union'. These three films are then presented to the jury, the 785 Members of the European Parliament, in several screenings in a purpose-built cinema within the European Parliament, Brussels. The MEPs are asked to vote for the film that best 'gives the audience a glimpse of a submerged dimension of the European venture – the individual, perhaps the intimate, dimension'. Votes are allocated according to the number of films a member has seen, for example if he/she has seen all three films, then three votes are counted.
To gauge the success of the LUX Prize, I spoke to Klaus Maeck, jury member in 2008 and producer of 2007's winning film, 'The Edge of Heaven', about what it means in real terms when a film is chosen for translation into the 22 other European languages. “Normally the film is handed over to a world distributor, and that's what happened with 'The Edge of Heaven'. The distributor sells the film in the relevant countries and it decides if and when the film is shown in cinemas, whether subtitles are made for it, and when the DVD is released. Logistically it is a rather difficult prize to award, since every country usually has its own channels for translation, subtitling and so on, but the LUX Prize is organised from a single location.” Mr. Maeck continues, “We had already sold 'The Edge of Heaven' to a number of countries at Cannes in 2007, so when we won the LUX prize in autumn some subtitling had already been done. For other countries with smaller film markets, the prize certainly makes it possible to translate the film for the first time. It is an incredibly creative idea that is worth developing, and it could be especially effective at film festivals.” For less high-profile winners, the prize also brings media attention, whilst for nominees it is hoped that the nomination and awards ceremony will spark some interest from film-goers all over Europe.
Arguably, the translation of a single film will have a relatively small impact on the cultural landscape of Europe, however Mr. Maeck insists that the LUX prize occupies the all-important space between artists and politicians: “I think it's a good idea that politicians have to become more engaged in film, or rather in culture; a special screening room was built in the Parliament for this very purpose. Of course, only a few members were able to see all of the nominated films, but there's not much more you can do than to deliver the films right to their doorstep... or rather office door.” The value of art as a tool for cultural diplomacy is widely recognised, however it is often neglected at times of uncertainty in favour of 'harder' political action. Mr. Maeck is an advocate of art as a revolutionary force: “I believe that art is incredibly important for allowing our society to progress, to develop, and film is an art form that can reach lots of people.” He continues, “through the medium of film – as with other media – important issues are addressed, and social and political issues are handled in more depth and with greater effect than in parliamentary debates. If politicians engage in film and have open discussions, it signifies that the issues are deemed important at a political level, and then more people have the opportunity to learn about particular films which, if they have been selected for the LUX prize, are guaranteed to address 'political' issues.”
Two of the three shortlisted films presented to the European Parliament members this year were co-productions: 'The Silence of Lorna' is a co-production between Italy, France, Belgium and Germany, whilst 'Delta' is a co-production between Germany and Hungary, illustrating a growing trend towards transnational co-productions between European countries supported at a supranational level. The Council of Europe's Eurimages support fund, for example, allocates 90% of its budget (comprised of donations from member states) to financing co-productions between European countries. Klaus Maeck explains how co-production is a further channel by which independent film productions can achieve wider distribution: “for self-serving reasons, the co-producing countries will make a great effort to publicise the film in their countries as much as possible because it counts as a national production, and therefore is to be celebrated. For most small production companies, it is hard enough to find financing for one good film in their own countries. If production companies from other countries join, the film in question then automatically also becomes an international production, which often seems more interesting; co-producing therefore makes a lot of sense, especially if the companies or countries participating put forward money and a filming location.” Further, Mr. Maeck points out that the participation of two or more countries in a film's production makes little difference to the viewer, who would most often choose to watch a film for the narrative rather than the location of the studio in which it was filmed.
Although there exist means for distributing European films to the international market, these are often determined by an expected revenue, meaning that films which are deemed to have little relevance to a target market rarely make it further than domestic cinemas and those in the surrounding region. The LUX prize is therefore unique in its commitment to reach all corners of a rapidly growing Europe and in its celebration of film as an invaluable tool in helping to re-shape our understanding of what it means to be 'European' in a postcolonial, post cold-war era.
Interview by Leila Mukhida