Mar­ion Döring: "Film­mak­ers have an un­spo­ken duty to tell hon­est sto­ries"

“Film­mak­ers have an un­spo­ken duty to tell hon­est sto­ries”

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - In­ter­viewed by Hanna Tre­hub

Di­rec­tor of the Euro­pean Film Academy on the pro­mo­tion of Euro­pean film di­rec­tors and aware­ness about cin­ema among view­ers, es­pe­cially teenagers and young adults

The Ukrainian Week caught up with Mar­ion Döring, di­rec­tor of the Euro­pean Film Academy, at this year’s Molodist Film Fes­ti­val to talk about pro­mot­ing Euro­pean di­rec­tors and the need for greater aware­ness about cin­ema among view­ers, es­pe­cially teenagers and young adults. Döring also spoke about the sit­u­a­tion with film­maker Oleh Sentsov, re­mind­ing us all, once more, that free­dom is not guar­an­teed but has to al­ways be pro­tected.

When peo­ple talk about Euro­pean film awards, the first one that comes to mind is Cannes’s Golden Palm and the Ber­li­nale’s Golden Bear. How does the EFA dif­fer from these two and what is its rep­u­ta­tion to­day?

— Let me start with where things be­gan. Thirty years ago, in 1988, group of film­mak­ers got to­gether in Ber­lin for the first Euro­pean film awards. This was just be­fore the Ber­lin Wall was taken down, when a united Ger­many still hadn’t hap­pened and the com­mu­nist and western sys­tems lived par­al­lel lives. The night be­fore the awards, this group gath­ered in a ho­tel room be­cause they were very wor­ried about the sit­u­a­tion in Europe at that point. The con­ti­nent was di­vided and there wasn’t much free­dom.

They were also quite wor­ried about film. The thing is that, at that point in time, view­ers did not want to see Euro­pean films be­cause their screens were filled with Amer­i­can movies. It was time to take the sit­u­a­tion into their own hands, to win back au­di­ences and re­store their con­fi­dence that Euro­pean film was worth their at­ten­tion. The next day, dur­ing the awards cer­e­mony, they an­nounced the es­tab­lish­ment of the Euro­pean Film Academy. Four months later, it was up and run­ning. Since then, we’ve been fight­ing to get Euro­pean films to at­tract more at­ten­tion.

I was there at this first meet­ing 20 years ago and can say that a lot has been achieved since that time—but not enough. In the last three decades, Europe has com­pletely changed: the Ber­lin Wall came down, the com­mu­nist sys­tem is no longer there, our bor­ders opened up, and the con­ti­nent has be­come freer and larger. Our Europe was ge­o­graph­i­cally frag­mented and it was not just about the EU. Now it has be­come more var­ied be­cause some coun­tries fell apart into smaller en­ti­ties while oth­ers joined forces.

On a con­ti­nent like this, Euro­pean cin­ema is very im­por­tant be­cause it is a kind of am­bas­sador for a dif­fer­ent style of life and cul­ture. The open ques­tion is how to en­gage more view­ers with it. We’ve lost sev­eral gen­er­a­tions be­cause no on did much about de­vel­op­ing knowl­edge about cin­e­matog­ra­phy. We don’t have huge pro­mo­tion bud­gets the way that Hol­ly­wood does, and with­out fi­nanc­ing, it’s very hard to at­tract the at­ten­tion of a wider au­di­ence, which is not an easy chal­lenge. Young peo­ple need to know more, as does our con­tem­po­rary and fu­ture au­di­ence in or­der to de­velop a hunger and ap­petite for Euro­pean films.

So it turns out that the Euro­pean Film Academy has a lot of com­pli­cated chal­lenges, more than Amer­ica’s Os­car. In­deed, we don’t want to com­pare our­selves to the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences (AMPAS). We are a very dif­fer­ent world here in Europe, and our film world is wildly dif­fer­ent from Hol­ly­wood’s.

Cannes, Lo­carno, Ber­li­nale are a com­pletely dif­fer­ent story. You’re talk­ing about film fes­ti­vals that last 8-10 days. The films that are shown there are mostly the de­buts of di­rec­tors whose ca­reers are just in start­ing, so these fes­ti­vals are pow­er­ful PR ma­chines for these pre­mieres: all the at­ten­tion is on them—and all the ex­pec­ta­tions. We’re more like BAFTA, the Os­cars and a num­ber of other na­tional film awards that are given to di­rec­tors who have al­ready done some­thing in cin­ema. It’s an enor­mous chal­lenge for us be­cause very many Euro­pean films are never shown out­side the bor­ders of the coun­tries where they were made. Our aim is to pop­u­lar­ize movies that have not been seen on ev­ery screen in Europe. And this goes on, year af­ter year. The ob­vi­ous point is that film­go­ers can­not eval­u­ate or even rec­og­nize movies that they’ve sim­ply

never seen. It’s also im­por­tant to en­gage young view­ers, to work on mak­ing them more aware so that they don’t trot off to where the big promo bud­gets are but can lis­ten to their own hearts and tastes. The EFA is more about in­form­ing, ed­u­cat­ing, build­ing aware­ness, and mak­ing pol­icy.

How open are non-doc­u­men­tary films in Europe to ex­pos­ing the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial con­flicts go­ing on to­day?

— Europe is many coun­tries and na­tions that have en­joyed open bor­ders for the last 40 years. Young peo­ple travel a good deal and can see and dis­cover many dif­fer­ent cities, cul­tures and peo­ple of all kinds. All of this should have an im­pact on their de­sire for films. How else can you find out about a dif­fer­ent cul­ture? I think the sim­plest way is to see a movie. In an hour and a half or so, you find your­self in a dif­fer­ent world and you get an idea of what’s go­ing on be­yond the fancy sig­nage. It’s pretty dif­fi­cult to imag­ine a sit­u­a­tion where, wher­ever that I am, I can just knock on the first door I come across and ask peo­ple to show me how they live and tell me how they feel, what they are afraid of and what they hope for… This is sim­ply not ac­ces­si­ble be­cause it means in­vad­ing some­one’s pri­vacy. But in a movie, all of this is pos­si­ble be­cause the film takes me where I need to go, to the hu­man core. This is a very valu­able phe­nom­e­non and ex­pe­ri­ence. We have to con­cern our­selves with get­ting as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to look at such films so that they can be­gin to talk about the emo­tional state of our coun­tries and of Europe—and about the fu­ture.

When you start get­ting closer to other peo­ple, you find out how to iden­tify with them, and I think the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fect is that you be­come more tol­er­ant. This is why we need to he spread­ing Euro­pean film cul­ture. I be­lieve that if peo­ple start watch­ing this kind of movie, the world will be­come just a lit­tle bit bet­ter.

Ev­ery year when I look at the list of films be­ing sub­mit­ted for the Euro­pean film awards, I see about 50 cre­ative films and 15 doc­u­men­taries. All of them, one way or an­other, look at com­pli­cated in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive is­sues. Of course, some­times a com­edy is just a com­edy, but most films bring up a se­ries of prob­lems. Take the film, Body and Soul, by the Hun­gar­ian film­maker Ildiko Enyedi. This film was made in a coun­try where mak­ing a free film is not easy at all, but the di­rec­tor was able to paint this very beau­ti­ful, bold pic­ture. If we count all the di­rec­tors, we’ll come up with a long list, and if we add the doc­u­men­tary mak­ers, the list will be enor­mous. The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of film­mak­ers is very much con­cerned about con­tem­po­rary is­sues.

There’s no lack of tal­ented di­rec­tors who are ready to make movies about com­plex is­sues and val­ues. The prob­lem lies else­where. Right now, the eighth project called “Young Au­di­ence Award” is now tak­ing place, which is aimed at teenagers. All seven times, we showed three nom­i­nated films in theaters in six dif­fer­ent coun­tries. These show­ings led to dis­cus­sions be­tween youth­ful au­di­ences and film pro­fes­sion­als. In the evening af­ter the show­ing, they all voted on­line to pick their fa­vorite. The award cer­e­mony took place in Ger­many and we aired it on­line.

You know, young peo­ple are happy to spend a day at the movies, to watch three com­pli­cated, non-pop­corn Euro­pean movies where the sub­jects touch on po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal free­dom, dig­nity and so on. This project has been so pop­u­lar that to­day 34 coun­tries are on board, rep­re­sented by 45 cities across Europe. We have also set up an in­ter­ac­tive bridge among dif­fer­ent theaters so that the young au­di­ence can see what’s go­ing on else­where. Young peo­ple re­ally like that. They are proud that they are part of the jury and can in­flu­ence the fi­nal de­ci­sion as to who gets the award. For them, it’s im­por­tant to be part of the Euro­pean com­mu­nity, to in­flu­ence de­ci­sions, and to be heard.

I think this is a won­der­ful ed­u­ca­tional project that de­vel­ops a taste for qual­ity films among young peo­ple. Ev­ery time be­fore the project starts again, I poll young view­ers about what films ap­peal to them. The typ­i­cal re­sponse is Hol­ly­wood hor­ror flicks and ac­tion movies.

Some say that movies and their di­rec­tors should be above the po­lit­i­cal clashes and bat­tles that take place in our world be­cause they are mak­ing art. What are your thoughts about this at­ti­tude? About the no­tion that films, like lit­er­a­ture and the­ater, can be me­di­a­tors of cer­tain mean­ings and val­ues?

— The main work of a film­maker is to make films. Film­mak­ers have an un­spo­ken duty to tell hon­est sto­ries and to talk to us about val­ues. Those who make films are a some­what priv­i­leged group that has the ad­van­tage of liv­ing freely and freely mak­ing films. They have an im­mense re­spon­si­bil­ity to make movies for and about those of their col­leagues who are in far worse cir­cum­stances and films for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions that need to un­der­stand why this or that value is im­por­tant.

Not long ago I hap­pened across sta­tis­tics about what young peo­ple think of Europe. Nearly 60% value it, yet the one thing that young peo­ple are not very in­ter­ested in is democ­racy. They think that it’s not that im­por­tant. True, democ­racy is not the best pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion, but it’s the best of what we have. Peo­ple don’t al­ways be­have the way they should but ev­ery one of us needs to live in peace and free­dom, which democ­racy can en­sure. It seems that many Euro­peans are used to be­ing in Europe and con­sid­ers this an en­ti­tle­ment, a given, not a value. In short, the sated per­son is no friend to the hun­gry. If democ­racy is a daily re­al­ity, why should any­one sud­denly worry about it?

Many peo­ple don’t seem to un­der­stand that they should go and cast their bal­lots. This is what hap­pened when they voted on Brexit in the UK. Young peo­ple mas­sively ig­nored the ref­er­en­dum for myr­iad stupid rea­sons: the weather was nice, so it was a per­fect time to just hang out. Since they didn’t vote, they took no re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own fu­tures and did not vote against Brexit. Free­dom of move­ment and op­por­tu­ni­ties to work else­where in Europe ap­plied to the Bri­tish as well, but it looks like Brexit will now un­der­mine these op­tions. In blow­ing off their vote, young peo­ple failed to de­fend their own fu­tures.

We can see that Europe is now di­vided into camps. Poland, Hun­gary, Ger­many and a slew of other coun­tries are now in


a sit­u­a­tion where their po­lit­i­cal right wing has enor­mous elec­toral sup­port. That’s scary. It’s time to say out loud that if we don’t de­fend the rights and free­doms that we have to­day, they will very quickly dis­ap­pear. How can films help in this case? Be­cause they can talk about all these is­sues. They can show us what life might be like when there’s no free­dom and how a so­ci­ety and a coun­try get to that place. We are all re­spon­si­ble for what hap­pens.

The film world is di­vided along ge­o­graphic and cul­tural lines. Asian, Amer­i­can and Euro­pean cin­e­matog­ra­phy are com­pletely dif­fer­ent uni­verses. What is most sig­nif­i­cant about Euro­pean film for you?

— Euro­pean films raise many is­sues. Their pro­tag­o­nists are not al­ways he­roes or su­per­heroes and their hero­ism lies in a dif­fer­ent plane. It arises from the fact that the pro­tag­o­nists try to un­der­stand what’s go­ing on around them and how to build their own lives. These aren’t the su­per­heroes of Amer­i­can ac­tion movies but in­di­vid­u­als with whom the viewer can iden­tify.

Un­like lit­er­ary clas­sics, film clas­sics are not taught in school cur­ric­ula, even though both rep­re­sent world art. De­vel­op­ing a fine taste for film is not a school mat­ter?

— I agree that this is miss­ing and it’s a prob­lem. Why is it so? Be­cause in many coun­tries politi­cians think its unim­por­tant. Pub­lic school cur­ric­ula in­clude cour­ses in lit­er­a­ture but none in cin­ema. The ques­tion is, how are peo­ple then sup­posed to know about film clas­sics? About Ing­mar Bergman and Olek­sandr Dovzhenko? Just like lit­er­a­ture, film­mak­ing is an art. Euro­pean cin­e­matog­ra­phy con­firms Euro­pean cul­ture, re­gard­less of Europe’s di­vi­sions, va­ri­ety and frag­ments. This is one of the things that unite us all.

The fact that peo­ple are no longer read­ing thick books is a sign of our times. But every­body still watches movies be­cause they take less time. So, let young peo­ple watch Bergman, Kies­lowski and oth­ers. They still have plenty to tell the world.

An­drzei Wa­jda’s last film, Af­ter­im­age, used the fate of a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual to show how Stal­in­ism de­stroyed avant-gardism in Poland. I doubt that young peo­ple to­day would read a book on this sub­ject, but they will watch a movie. Es­pe­cially if there’s a great artist’s name be­hind it. For me, Wa­jda is a hero, a man who never lost courage in life to his very last day on earth. And he’s not the only one: among Euro­pean film­mak­ers there are plenty of those who are bold as chil­dren. How­ever, some­times just to watch a par­tic­u­lar film is an act of courage.

The arts, in­clud­ing cin­ema, did not al­ways stand on guard for free­dom, democ­racy and hu­man rights. Un­der dic­ta­tor­ships, it of­ten served those in power. What can be done when we see sim­i­lar prac­tices be­ing re­vived, es­pe­cially in Rus­sia?

— We all know how the Nazi regime used the arts, and it’s no se­cret that there were artists who al­lowed them­selves to be as tools on be­half of Nazism. Here it’s im­por­tant to men­tion a few things. For an artist, to live un­der a dic­ta­tor­ship is a very dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s hard for me to even imag­ine some­thing like that, be­cause I’ve been lucky enough to live in an era where free­dom was part of life and I have no ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing to choose be­tween my in­di­vid­u­al­ity and get­ting some ben­e­fits. And I can’t pass judg­ment on those who were not strong enough not to com­pro­mise. When you have to choose be­tween pro­tect­ing your fam­ily and pro­tect­ing your art—it’s a ter­ri­fy­ing choice. To­day, we must do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to make sure that that kind of sit­u­a­tion never re­turns and that no one is ever again faced with such a choice. We are all hu­man and it’s hard to say how any one of us might re­act in such a sit­u­a­tion.

No­body but us will de­fend our democ­racy or our free­doms. Each of us acts in their de­fense in var­i­ous ways: jour­nal­ists in theirs, be­cause writ­ing is a very pow­er­ful in­stru­ment of in­flu­ence, and the Euro­pean Film Academy in its. Ev­ery year, in ad­di­tional to aware, we hold hu­man rights plat­form where we talk about free speech and artis­tic ex­pres­sion. Our main awards cer­e­mony also has an el­e­ment of this, not just the light of bor­der lights.

In fact, the ques­tion is, how can peo­ple live un­der a dic­ta­tor­ship. In fact, the ques­tion is, how should peo­ple live un­der a dic­ta­tor­ship, when there is no free­dom? Some­how or an­other, in a very sub­tle man­ner, they man­age, be­tween the lines, to tell about many very im­por­tant things in their works. It’s not al­ways nec­es­sary to tell ev3ery­thing, start­ing with the ti­tle page.

Ukrainian di­rec­tor Oleh Sentsov is con­tin­u­ing his hunger strike un­til all po­lit­i­cal hostages held by the Krem­lin are re­leased. What can the EFA do to sup­port its col­league who has been un­law­fully in­car­cer­ated in the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion for the courage not to agree to the il­le­gal ac­tions in his Crimean home­land?

— Those who will­ingly vote for pop­ulists to­day don’t seem to be aware of what will prob­a­bly hap­pen af­ter those politi­cians come to power. It’s a ques­tion vot­ers seem to just leave up to chance. Western Europe has lived a fairly good life for some decades at this point, and this good life has led to a fail­ure to re­ally con­cern our­selves about ed­u­ca­tion and on hand­ing down our val­ues to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. We fig­ured they would see them and au­to­mat­i­cally ab­sorb them as their own, but that’s not hap­pen­ing. Peo­ple need to be re­minded ev­ery day that their free life is a priv­i­lege. We can see that on the streets of Kyiv, where a slew of stores has put up posters and ban­ners in sup­port of Oleh Sentsov in their win­dows. When peo­ple walk by, they at least stop and think about who this is.

We are try­ing to do as much as phys­i­cally pos­si­ble for Sentsov. His in­car­cer­a­tion is what hap­pens when free­dom of speech and of artis­tic ex­pres­sion are lost. It’s so im­por­tant for us to re­mind each other and not for­get about him. Right now, be­cause he’s con­tin­u­ing his hunger strike, there are many ac­tiv­i­ties on his be­half. Not long ago, Ag­nieszka Hol­land and Wim Wen­ders pub­lished an open let­ter in which they ad­dressed Rus­sian politi­cians and film­mak­ers, among oth­ers.

In ad­di­tion to this, we are con­stantly re­mind­ing our own politi­cians and lead­ers that Oleh Sentsov must be set free. We’re talk­ing not just about Ger­many but also about the rest of Europe. The point is that such cam­paigns typ­i­cally aren’t very high pro­file. At the po­lit­i­cal level, diplo­macy of­ten takes place in face-to-face meet­ings. The Sentsov case is on the agenda of Euro­pean gov­ern­ments, but any de­ci­sion can only be made in Moscow. On June 14, the foot­ball cham­pi­onships kicked off in Rus­sia and this is yet an­other op­por­tu­nity to draw wide­spread at­ten­tion to the sit­u­a­tion with this Ukrainian film­maker. We can’t get to­gether and en­joy the cel­e­bra­tion of sports while for­get­ting about Oleh Sentsov, who was jailed sim­ply be­cause he had ex­pressed his own opin­ion and be­cause he is a Ukrainian artist. And it’s not just about him, ei­ther. How can any­one drink beer, dance in the streets and en­joy foot­ball when all these peo­ple are still be­hind bars? Let’s not for­get that some­thing like this could hap­pen to any of us.


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