The very first European Film Awards took place in 1988 in Berlin (West) upon an initiative by the Berlin senator for culture, Volker Hassemer to celebrate together with illustrous European filmmakers the achievements in European film. On the night before the Awards Ceremony, news went around the corridors of the Hotel Kempinski that a special gathering was taking place in the Atlantic Suite: Bernardo Bertolucci and Isabelle Huppert were there, Wim Wenders, Ben Kingsley, Krzysztof Zanussi, István Szabó, Mikis Theodorakis, Erland Josephson, Nikita Mikhalkov, and others. Until the early morning, they talked about their responsibility for European cinema and discussed the idea of founding a European film academy. On the next day, they were joined by some of Europe’s finest filmmaking colleagues such as Ingmar Bergman, Anthony Hopkins, Giulietta Masina, Carmen Maura, Pedro Almodovar, Krzsystof Kieslowski, Ornella Muti, Max von Sydow, and Richard Attenborough for the Awards Ceremony at Berlins’s Theater des Westens (Theatre of the West). Europe was still divided and when Krzysztof Kieslowski went on stage to accept the first award for Best Film, he said “I hope Poland is part of Europe”. Nikita Mikhalkov had brought a bag full of caviar from Moscow which he presented to the actor Curt Bois, winner of the award for supporting actor. Pedro Almodóvar received the award for Best Young Film, the first of a series of European Film Awards he would receive during the next twenty years. Ingmar Bergman was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award, special tributes were paid to the outstanding work of Richard Attenborough and Marcello Mastroianni.
A few months later, the filmmakers came together again to found the European Cinema Society which later became the European Film Academy (EFA). And this was truly a family gathering of European film: Claude Chabrol was responsible for matters of taste, Stephen Frears was swamped with spontaneous applause when he burst into the meeting in gym shoes, exhausted and jet-lagged, straight from Hollywood, with three Oscars in his bag. And everybody signed a letter Jiří Menzel had written to the author Vaclav Hável, imprisoned in then-Czechoslovakia, who would eventually become the Czechoslovakian, later Czech president. Ingmar Bergman was elected as the European Cinema Society’s and later the academy’s first president.
The Early Years
By the time the second European Film Awards took place in Paris in late 1989, the world had changed substantially: the Berlin Wall had fallen and Europe was starting to re-define its co-ordinates. There was a vibrating energy, European filmmakers travelled across hitherto closed borders. The star of the evening was the creative young cinema from Sarajevo which received a special mention. Over the next years, the European Film Awards became a known meeting place for the crème de la crème of European cinema. In 1990, the Awards went to Glasgow where Andrzej Wajda received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Back in Berlin, Ken Loach’s Riff-Raff won European Film of the Year 1991, and in the next years, the European Film Awards become an established occasion for the members of the European Film Academy to meet in a mirrored tent in Berlin on a Sunday morning, joined by a select group of journalists, to celebrate the likes of Gianni Amelio, Nanni Moretti, Ian McKellen, Lars von Trier, and many others.
Making It Bigger
By 1996 - Nik Powell had become chairman of the EFA and Wim Wenders succeeded Ingmar Bergman as its president - it was decided to open the European Film Academy up to more than the former 99 members and for the industry as such. The members became the voting body thereby replacing the former jury system. And the Awards began to travel again, each city and country hosting the Awards over the years giving the Ceremony a distinct taste of its own culture: 1998 in London where Roberto Benigni jumped across the seats to accept the European Film 1998 for La Vita è bella, 2000 in Paris where Rupert Everett (in French) and Antoine de Caunes (in English) led through the soirée at the Theatre National de Chaillot, 2002 in Rome where Pedro Almodóvar’s Hable con ella received a total of five awards, 2004 in Barcelona where Juanjo Puigcorbé and Maria de Medeiros hosted the Premios del Cine Europeo and, most recently, 2006 in Warsaw where Roman Polanski received a Lifetime Achievement Award in a ceremony hosted by Sophie Marceau and Maciej Stuhr. Every second year, the Awards return to Berlin, home of the European Film Academy, and it was here that the young German (Catalan) actor Daniel Brühl won two awards for his role as the son in GOOD BYE, LENIN! And that Claude Chabrol and Sean Connery received standing ovations when accepting their awards for Lifetime Achievement (2003 and 2005). The Awards Ceremony now annually brings together 1,400 guests - winners and nominees, the stars of European cinema, the members of the European Film Academy, the international media. Over 20 international TV stations and a crowd of photographers follow the arrivals of the stars at the red carpet and the ceremony is broadcast to 40 countries world-wide. The European Film Awards have become established as a highlight on the annual cultural agenda.
The 20th Anniversary
In 2007, the Awards Ceremony again returned to Berlin to celebrate their 20th anniversary! As a kick-off, the Flemish Radio Orchestra under Dirk Brossé gave a special concert with European film composers in concert at Berlin’s historical theatre Admiralspalast. The ceremony itself was hosted by French actress Emmanuelle Béart and German actor Jan Josef Liefers and included the legendary Finnish band Leningrad Cowboys, known around the world from various films by Aki Kaurismäki. As a special tribute on occasion of the 20th European Film Awards, founding members Liv Ullmann, Jeanne Moreau, Jiří Menzel, Henning Carlsen, David Rose, Jörn Donner, Lord David Puttnam, István Szabó, Manoel de Oliveira, Peter Lilienthal and Wim Wenders were presented with a special momento - they all received engraved stones from the island of Faro, Ingmar Bergman’s refuge, where he spent his last years. Europe’s oldest still active filmmaker, Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira also received a special honorary award.