Last spring, cinemas across Brussels and other European cities opened their doors to film afficionados eager to take an active role in the celebration of European cinema.
The theatres were hosting free screenings of films competing for the European Parliament’s LUX Audience Award 2022. The three contenders were Flee; Great Freedom; and the eventual winner Quo Vadis, Aida? directed by Jasmila Žbanić.
This year, five films have been shortlisted and LUX screenings are being organised for Burning Days; Alcarràs; Close; Triangle of Sadness; and Will-o'-the-Wisp.
The LUX Audience Award relies on an unusual voting procedure which combines the European audiences’ votes with those of its representatives in the European Parliament, with each group contributing 50 per cent towards the final outcome.
The award emerged from the coming together of the LUX Prize, which used to be decided by MEPs, and the European Film Academy People’s Choice Award, which was awarded solely through audience votes. The change was unveiled at a special event during one of the most prestigious celebrations of the international film industry, the Venice Film Festival, in 2020. The award is presented in partnership with the European Commission and Europa Cinemas.
“What really makes the LUX Award process unique is that, over the few years of the existence of the new improved version, we have been able to take it from being a festival-driven selection to a wider selection from across the industry with the inclusion of people at the sharp end of the dissemination of films to the public,” says film producer Mike Downey, chairman of the European Film Academy and honorary president of the selection panel for the LUX Award.
If you weren’t already aware that the guiding principle for selecting nominees is to raise awareness of current social and political issues, with the goal of fostering debate among European audiences, one look at the list of nominated films would set you straight. From class struggle to environmentalism and protection of heritage, from corruption to colonialism, this year’s nominees address the hot topics.
To European Parliament Vice-President Evelyn Regner, in charge of the LUX Award on Parliament’s side, the award is a useful way to reach out to citizens across the EU.
“Film is undoubtedly an important and powerful tool for democracy”
“Film is undoubtedly an important and powerful tool for democracy, and the LUX Audience Award is a concrete example of the motto of the European Union – ‘united in diversity’ – since multiple countries across Europe were involved in the co-production of the LUX Audience Award nominees and they all mirror our societies,” says Regner, highlighting the fundamental role culture has played in the European project.
The nominees are selected from films submitted for the European Film Awards, and each selection panel member can nominate two additional films. To ensure diversity in the panel, the LUX team includes members of 27 Times Cinema – a group of young film-lovers, each representing one European country, who attend the Venice Film Festival and go on to become LUX Ambassadors in their home countries.
Asked to reveal the two films he nominated for this year’s LUX Award, Downey remains tight-lipped. “I invoke the ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ rule,” he says – the American reference comical in light of the LUX Award’s link to the European legislative body.
One of the benefits of being a LUX Award nominee is reaching a wider audience than otherwise expected. However, because of the nature of the award and its social impact orientation, some of the nominated films have a rocky reception at “home”, or are cause for controversy.
It was the case for last year’s Quo Vadis, Aida?, which is a dramatic depiction of the Srebrenica genocide and still has not been screened in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska (the Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina). It is also the case with this year’s Burning Days, directed by Emin Alper.
Dealing with, among other things, nepotism and corruption in the justice system, Alper’s film retraces the struggles faced by prosecutor Emre upon appointment to a small town where political scandals are commonplace.
The film had initially received funding from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which then demanded the filmmakers pay back the sum with interest, after the film’s release.
“Great art, since time immemorial, has attempted to grapple with crucial issues of this kind, and in a story highly reminiscent of Henrik Ibsen’s great European play, An Enemy of the People, Alper’s Burning Days deals head-on and unflinchingly with the burning issues of the day,” says Downey.
On the topic of burning issues, Vice-President Regner notes that “in our current situation, the environmental question is not only looming at our backs – it is a sometimes-harsh reality requiring action. A reality changing lives, like in Alcarràs”.
The Spanish-Italian co-production directed by Carla Simón addresses the struggles of the Solé clan, a large and tight-knit family of peach farmers in Catalonia whose way of life is threatened by the installation of solar panels on their land. The situation is made even more challenging by the fact not all family members agree on the right path forward.
Choosing which direction to take is never easy, even less so when the place it leads to is very different from the one you came from. As is the case in João Pedro Rodrigues’s Will-o'-the-Wisp, a Portuguese-French co-production that portrays the deathbed reminiscences of a king who once dreamt of being a fireman and yearned to change the status quo.
Another story on the hardships of finding one’s own way is Lukas Dhont’s Close. Produced between Belgium, France and the Netherlands, the film is a haunting portrait of self-discovery, intimacy, friendship and guilt. It follows the story of schoolboys Rémi and Léo, best friends whose relationship changes when their bond comes under the scrutiny of their classmates. “As a reflection on masculinity as linked to toxic patriarchal power, it is second to none,” says Downey.
Together with Close and Alcarràs, Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, a poignant satire on privilege and class struggle in the capitalist system, has already been released in Brussels. The film, which dominated the European Film Awards, taking home Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenwriter and Best Actor, and won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, follows the story of models Carl and Yaya as they embark on a luxury cruise that enters dangerous waters.
During the rating period, open until 12 June 2023, the five films will be subtitled in the 24 official EU languages and free screenings will be organised in every EU country with film copies (DCPs) being produced by the European Parliament, as part of the LUX Film Days this spring. Once the votes have been tallied, the LUX Audience Award winner will be adapted for visually and hearing-impaired audiences and promoted in EU countries.
At a time when the EU’s role in the world is subject to scrutiny and debate, the LUX Award is an opportunity for Europeans to define some of the bloc’s priorities and reaffirm what Europe stands for.
“Art is a mirror of our societies,” says Regner. “Films bring us together, make us understand difficulties others are facing [and] wishes and desires within ourselves... Getting perspective is essential for all of us to be able to understand each other’s often differing positions, to find a common ground and to make the work within this House such that it reflects these stories.”