It was the European Union's Senior Media Advisor Roger Camilleri who came up with the concept for a European Film Festival. Talking to me over the phone from Canberra, he says that each year the 24 EU Member States are asked to acquire a film through their embassy for the festival. The sole criteria of their selection is that it must be an award winning film, a preference for films that are recent and have not previously screened in Australia.
Once rights have been cleared the films become “The Windows on Europe Film Festival”. Now in its sixth year, the festival has grown from its humble beginnings as a stand-alone event as part of Canberra's Multicultural Festival, to become a national event with programs screened in Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane through Dendy Cinemas; across the Tasman Sea in Auckland through Academy Cinemas and Melbourne at A.C.M.I.
I press Camilleri for more details. Is there a theme? Is there a selection programmer? The answer is no. Rather, Camilleri says, he “wanted to give the Australian audience as wide a range as possible of films that they could see across Europe. There are dramas, comedies and romances and this year, for the first time, there are documentary-dramas. It brings a snippet of films from right across Europe.”
The selection of films is entirely at the discretion of the Member States and it reveals some diverse choices. Dramas abound with Greece's selection of The Homecoming, winner of the 2007 Fipresci Award at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival; the Golden Leopard nominated Freigesprochen (Free to Leave) from Austria/Luxembourg, the Academy Award nominated Daens from Belgium, Tobruk from the Czech Republic and Meli Kai Krasi (Honey & Wine) from Cyprus to name a few. France has selected a comedy/drama in La Fille de Monaco (The Girl from Monaco), as has Germany with A Friend of Mine and Romania with California Dreamin. It is officially a year for romance for The Netherlands Alles is Liefde (Love is All) and Poland, Mala Moskwa (Little Moscow) with Bulgaria choosing a horror/romance/thriller hybrid Shivachki (Seamstresses) by writer/director Lyudmil Todorov and Hungary selecting a comedy/drama/thriller in A Nyomozó. This year Sweden is all about comedy with The Swimsuit Issue.
One theme that emerges in this celebration of European cinema is a preoccupation with climate change. Two programmed films tackle the topic. From the United Kingdom, Franny Armstrong's (McLibel) 50-minute documentary drama, The Age of Stupid which stars Pete Postlethwaite as a man from the devastated future who watches archival footage of 2008 with regret and remorse. Similarly the Finnish feature documentary, the winner of the Best Documentary Film at the 2009 Jussi Awards, Katastrofin Aineksia (Recipes for Diaster) follows one year in the life of a family who attempt a year of green living. On the environmental interests of European Member States Camilleri says, “climate change of course is a huge subject worldwide, but particularly so in Europe. The whole thing is very much citizen driven. It is Europeans themselves who have been seeing the effects of Global warming and of environmental degradation and they wanted action to be taken.”
Windows on Europe Film Festival 2010 continues its national tour. Full program available from the Delegation of European Union to Australia's website.