Roman Polanski's 'European Oscar'

Earlier this month, Roman Polanski’s would-be “political thriller” The Ghost Writer won “best picture” at the European Film Academy awards, which were held this year in Tallinn, Estonia. The academy’s “best picture” award is officially known as the “European Film” award. The Ghost Writer also took the awards for “European Director” (Polanski), “European Screenwriter” (Polanski and Robert Harris), “European Actor” (Ewan McGregor), “European Composer,” and “European Production Designer.”


The film is a kind of amalgam of “good European” pieties (e.g., the righteousness of the International Criminal Court) and delirious anti-American phantasms. It follows the trials and tribulations of a ghostwriter working on the memoirs of a former British prime minister. In the midst of his assignment, the ghostwriter gradually uncovers the “appalling truth” — as the official synopsis puts it — that his employer had been under the control of the CIA while residing at 10 Downing Street. Any resemblances between the fictional former prime minister and the real former Prime Minister Tony Blair are clearly intended. For good measure, the film has the “Blair” character assassinated by the father of a British soldier who was killed in Iraq.

As discussed in my earlier PJM report on “Berlinollywood,” Polanski’s The Ghost Writer was not only largely filmed in Germany, it also benefited from massive German public subsidies. These included €3,540,944 directly from the German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel. This works out to nearly $5 million at current exchange rates. The money came in the form of a grant from the German Film Fund (DFFF). The DFFF is a federal program under the direction of Germany’s commissioner for Culture and Media. As noted on the German government’s website, the commissioner reports directly to the chancellor. The commissioner is commonly referred to as the “Culture Minister.”


The German Federal Film Board (FFA), a distinct federal program, pitched in with another €500,000, as did the joint “Media Board” of the German states of Berlin and Brandenburg. Other regional film funds contributed smaller sums. The Ghost Writer also received some €590,000 in support from the European Union’s MEDIA program. (See European Commission press release here.) This brings total either German or EU support to over €5.5 million or nearly $7.5 million at current exchange rates.

And who finances the European Film Academy? Lo and behold, yet again, chiefly the German public — which is to say, whether it wants to or not. In this case, German taxpayers are somewhat spared. German gamblers take up the slack. According to the Berlin-based academy, it is “mainly financed by the German National Lottery.” What is meant by this is, apparently, just the Berlin regional division of the latter, part of whose proceeds go to a so-called Lotto Foundation. A 2010 press release of the Lotto Foundation lists a grant to the academy of €264,000.

But the academy also acknowledges receiving financial support from the German government’s Commissioner for Culture and Media, the Media Board of Berlin and Brandenburg, and the MEDIA program of the European Union. (A 2007 press release from the commissioner’s office mentions a €170,000 operating grant to the academy.) The German Federal Film Board (FFA) is also sometimes identified as a sponsor of the academy. It is so, for instance, on publicity materials for this year’s awards ceremony in Tallinn. This is to say, that the European Film Academy is financially backed by all of the major German and EU public sponsors that subsidized the making of Polanski’s film.


Moreover, the incestuous network of state subsidies does not end there. The Ghost Writer first made headlines internationally when it won the “Silver Bear” for best director at the Berlin International Film Festival or “Berlinale” in February. By the festival’s own reckoning, 40% of its budget is covered by the German federal government. Germany’s Commissioner for Culture and Media Bernd Neumann has acknowledged that his office contributed €6.5 million to the festival in 2010. This is the same “Culture Ministry” that contributed €3.5 to the making of The Ghost Writer.

In keeping with its essentially German financing and its pan-European pretensions, the European Film Academy’s awards ceremony is held in alternate years in Germany and another European country. The president of the European Film Academy is the German film director Wim Wenders. Shortly before the 2004 American elections, Wenders described the United States as a “fundamentalist totalitarian state” during a talk show appearance on Germany’s ARD public television. Since he has held the post of European Film Academy president since 1996, it appears that Wenders may well be president-for-life.


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