'Toni Erdmann,' Politics Dominate European Film Awards

Courtesy of Komplizen Film/Sony Pictures Classics
'Toni Erdmann'

“Europe is a miracle we should celebrate,” said producer Leontine Petit, one of the many winners who used the awards to call for European unity.

Toni Erdmann, Maren Ade's German comedy about the strained relationship between a father and his grown daughter, was the big winner Saturday at this year's European Film Awards, beating out I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach's attack on British austerity politics.

But politics dominated the 29th EFAs, as Europe's leading filmmakers used the event to call for a unified front against the rise of nationalism and xenophobia across the continent.

Polish director Agnieszka Holland, chairwoman of the European Film Academy, which presents the awards, set the tone early on with a mock video of herself sitting at the President of the United States' desk in the Oval Office. Flanked by security guards holding machine guns aloft, Holland said she would not leave the White House until “democracy and tolerance” were restored, an obvious dig at the election of Donald Trump. Holland told the crowd that, with intolerance on the rise, their work as filmmakers was more important than ever.

It was a sentiment echoed by Leontine Petit, a Dutch producer whose credits include The Lobster and Heli and who received this year's honor for co-production, the Prix Eurimages.

“I really think it is our duty to tell people that Europe is a miracle that we should celebrate, not something we should oppose,” urged Petit, saying the union of 28 European nations was not just a free trade group “but a source of norms and values that we have to celebrate ... we should ask for more Europe, not less.”

Even Pierce Brosnan, the former James Bond star, who received the European Achievement in World Cinema honor on Saturday night, used his acceptance speech to make a political statement.

“In these turbulent times we find ourselves in, more than ever we need to come together as artists, as filmmakers, to try and make sense of what is happening in our countries, in our nations,” he said. “To all you young men and women out there: Keep good strength, keep good faith, whatever the politics of your nation is, be true to yourself. Be bold and go forth.”

One of the most moving moments of the evening came when the Academy called on Russia to release Oleg Senstov, the Ukrainian director sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorist charges. The ruling has been called "a farce" and a “clear miscarriage of justice by the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

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