Wim Wenders talks to the Culture and Education Committee

Labour Party

Last week the Culture and Education Committee held a public hearing entitled “Cinema and European Identities”.  Among the speakers from the European film industry was legendary German film director Wim Wenders.  Doris Pack, chair of the committee, opened proceedings by noting that “there can be no genuine sense of shared European identity if we forget our culture, especially cinema”.

According to Wim Wenders, who is also President of the European Film Academy, Europe is often perceived by its citizens as a political, economic and bureaucratic structure with little place for culture. “The administration of Europe has become the image of Europe. This is one of the reasons for euroscepticism”, said Mr Wenders. He suggested focusing more attention on the cinema as a solution to this problem. “Movies practically invented the American Dream. They can do miracles for the image of Europe too”, he added.

Despite the fact that about 80% of the films shown in Europe are American, about 1200 films are produced each year in Europe, which helps make European culture valued throughout the world. “We can be proud about the past and present of our cinema”, added Mr Wenders. What worried him, however, was that for our children “movies are synonymous with blockbusters”. He said “We are losing the young audiences” and urged that cinema literacy be made a compulsory subject in school curricula across the EU.

Mr Wenders also noted that fewer and fewer films from other European countries are shown in EU Member States. This needed to be tackled, as our European identity “depends on sharing our culture and values”. Mr Wenders paid tribute to the EU MEDIA programme as well as the EP LUX Prize for enabling people to see films from other European countries.

In an interview for the parliament later he said:

“European cinema is luckily not just one but it is composed of many voices and these voices have something in common that we proudly call European cinema.

A lot of people over the years have asked the question “does it exist or isn’t it just the sum of all the national cinemas?” – It is more than the sum. The sum is already quite a lot but European cinema is much more with its language of its own with its own rules and its own history. A very distinct language…that Hollywood learned a lot from over the years.

We see the incredible richness of films out there, and we see how little they travel. Every year it’s less. And it is not because people don’t like it. Once you show people these movies they are flabbergasted, they are astonished, but they don’t get to see them.

The audience is there, it is just that the chances to see these movies are diminished.”

We are very lucky to have such richness and diversity of culture throughout Europe and it does seem a shame that it is difficult to see many films from different member states in your own country.  There are problems of course, such as translation, which can be prohibitively expensive, plus the demand may not be as great as for films from America.  The fact that we share a language with the US makes it even more of a problem for us in the UK, but it is clear that this is an issue across Europe.  I would like to see more support from the EU, in particular for independent cinemas, which are more likely to show non-English language films.  Commissioner Vassiliou herself has recognised this and the commission say they are making funds available for cinemas to make the very expensive change over to the digital format.

The work of the Culture and Education Committee since the Election

Labour Party

Last  Friday I had one of my regular meetings with the British Culture Trade Unions to discuss developments in Europe. The picture shows me with from left to right Louise McMullen from Equity (thanks to Equity for hosting the meeting), Tony Lennon and Andy Egan from BECTU, Hatice Ozdemirciler of the UK Film Council and Peter Thoms from the Musicians Union. Here is the written report I provided them,  I think it is a useful summary for anybody interested in the work of the Culture and Education Committee in the European Parliament. Regular readers may be familiar with some of these subjects already!

The Culture and Education Committee in 2009

Last September, I became the Coordinator of the Socialists and Democrats on the Culture and Education Committee.  Carrying on the work from the previous Parliament, the Culture and Education Committee helped establish the European Year of Volunteering for 2011, which will help promote volunteering as an important part of our civic society.  The Culture and Education Committee was also busy with the hearings for the new European Commission.  Androulla Vassiliou, the new Culture and Education Commissioner, gave a convincing performance in her hearing and responded well to my question on how we might use culture and education to fight social inequality.  If you would like to know more then please read my blog on the subject here.

Online Content and Creative Rights

In the last few months I have had the pleasure of taking part in numerous events and panel discussions focusing on the somewhat fraught issue of online content and creative rights.  These debates have shown what a complex and emotive subject copyright can be.  I have met with people from the Creative Industries at every level from across Europe, they have been very helpful and informative about this issue and their contributions will be most useful when we eventually draft legislation.  The Commission’s recent reflections paper on the subject failed to give any concrete answers to this difficult problem and neither the Liberals nor the European Peoples’ Party seem close to developing an opinion on this important issue.  Nevertheless, we will hopefully be seeing developments in the next few months, with a new report coming from the Commission, and a public hearing being held in March in the European Parliament.  This is one of the big issues in the Culture and Education Committee, and as the Coordinator for the S&D group, I will be working with my colleagues to make sure we find the right solution.

Vocational Qualifications

One of the main things I hope to focus on in the next year is Vocational Qualifications.  There is a push now to get Vocational Qualifications mutually recognised across the member states.  Vocational Qualifications provide training and skills directly relevant to jobs, yet they are wrongly viewed by many as the “soft option”.  It is time that we in the Parliament worked to change this perception.  In this economic downturn, in a world of intensified global competition, with a high number of low skilled workers, and an aging population, Vocational Education and Training can play a key role in ensuring Europe’s future competitiveness and innovation. 

The LUX Prize

As well as the important work of the Culture and Education Committee, I also have the privilege of participating in projects such as the LUX prize.  The European Parliament awards a prize every year to a film that has relevance to issues surrounding Europe and the EU.  This year’s nominees were all excellent; with Eastern Plays and Sturm coming a close second and third to the very moving French film, Welcome. I blogged on the issue so if you would like to know more then you can read about it here.

Future Work of the Committee

Regarding the next six months in the Culture Committee, there have been some encouraging signs from the Spanish, who hold the presidency for the next six months.  Their culture minister, Angeles Gonzales-Sinde, gave an impressive presentation to the Culture and Education Committee where she stated that one of her top priorities was to consolidate culture as a significant factor in economic growth and social cohesion.  I find this particularly encouraging as an MEP for London, where the Cultural industries are second only to finance in terms of economic importance.  I am therefore looking forward to working with Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde to achieve this very important goal.

The LUX Prize

Labour Party

lux09_competition_enThe Culture and Education Committee spent part of this morning hearing from the directors and production teams of the three films which have been shortlisted for the annual European Parliament LUX prize.  All three are excellent films dealing with difficult and controversial subjects; choosing a winner will be a very difficult task.

The LUX Prize was established in 2007 as a tangible symbol of the European Parliament’s commitment to the European film industry and its creative endeavours.

The three competing films for the 2009 LUX Prize are at the very heart of the European public debate.  Eastern Plays by Kamen Kalev, Sturm by Hans-Christain Schmid and Welcome by Philippe Lioret are three remarkable contemporary films chosen by a panel of 17 cinema professionals appointed by the Committee on Culture and Education of the European Parliament, and unvieled last September under the auspices of the 66th Venice International Film Festival.  They were part of the 2009 LUX Prize Official Selection made up of the seven other following films:

  • 35 Rhums by Glaire Denis
  • Ander by Roberto Castón
  • Ein Augenblick Freiheit by Arash T. Riahi
  • Katalin Varga by Caroline Strubb
  • Nord by Rune Denstad Langlo
  • Pandora’s Box by Yesmin Ustagaolu

Eastern Plays

eastern_plays imageTwo brothers who have lost all contact are suddenly brought together when they have opposite roles in a racist beating: while Georgi who’s recently joined a neonazi group participates in the violence, Itso witnesses and rescues the Turkish family. Georgi, now being asked to participate in larger events, starts to question his implication in the movement and Itso wonders if the beautiful Turkish girl he saved could be his ticket out from his sad life in Sofia. Only by reuniting will the two brothers be able to assess what they really want from life.


sturm iomageHannah Maynard, a prosecutor at The Tribunal in The Hague manages to convince a young Bosnian woman to testify against an alleged war criminal. Amidst the inconsistency of political interests and threats coming from Bosnian Serb nationalists, she realizes that her opponents not only sit on the dock across from her, but are also found in her own ranks. Hannah faces the trial of her life, all of a sudden torn between her strong beliefs in the system and her loyalty towards the witness.


welcome imageSimon works as an instructor and lifeguard at the Calais swimming pool. To impress his wife and win her back, he decides to take a big risk, when he secretly helps out a young Kurdish refugee who wants to swim across the English channel.

The final decision as to who is awarded the LUX prize will be decided by a vote of MEPs.

My real hope is that all the shortlisted films will be widely disseminated throughout Europe and, hopefully, even further afield.  The kind of talent shown by these film makers deserves a wide and appreciative audience.