Matthijs Wouter Knol Talks Ambitions To Make European Film Awards Bigger Part Of Awards Season Conversation

Matthijs Wouter Knol Talks Ambitions To Make European Film Awards Bigger Part Of Awards Season Conversation

Cinema professionals from across Europe are gathering in Berlin this weekend for the ceremony of the 36th European Film Awards on Saturday evening.

This younger cousin of Hollywood’s near hundred-year-old Academy Awards is overseen by the Berlin-based European Film Academy.

The body’s 4,600 members – hailing from “geographical Europe” as well as Israel, Palestine and Russia, – vote on an official Academy Selection made up of around 40 films selected by the European Academy Board and a group of experts.

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Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki’s Fallen Leaves and UK director Jonathan Glazer The Zone Of Interest top the nominations this year, followed by Justine Triet’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner Anatomy Of A Fall and Poland’s Agnieszka Holland’s Green Border, which won the Venice Special Jury Prize.

Awards for the craft categories were decided by an expert jury and announced ahead of tonight’s ceremony.

The European Film Academy was launched in 1989 by a group of 40 European filmmakers – which included Ingmar Bergman, Bernardo Bertolucci, Claude Chabrol and Wim Wenders – to advance the interests of the region’s cinema.  

Saturday’s awards ceremony is just one pole of its activities, which also include the Month of European Film, which dovetails with the awards, and the new European Film Club, aimed at fostering a cinema culture among the 12 to 19-year-old demographic.

Deadline sat down with European Film Academy CEO and director Matthijs Wouter Knol to discuss the body’s expanding remit and plans for the future.

DEADLINE: Where do the European Film Awards currently sit in the awards season constellation and what are your ambitions for the prizes and its ceremony in the future?

MATTHIJS WOUTER KNOL: I’d like to make them more relevant and well known, not only for the sake of the awards show itself. It’s just one aspect of the work the Academy does throughout the whole year. But rather as part of an ambition to make European film a brand that people recognize, are interested in, are curious about and want to see.

DEADLINE: The European Film Academy announced earlier this year that the awards will move from their current December slot to mid-January as of 2026. What’s the thinking behind this?

WOUTER KNOL: We want the awards to become more part of the wider awards season so that they become an indicator of the best films in Europe and what should be taken into consideration in other awards. This is partly already the case: winners of the European Film Awards have a tradition of already being nominated in the international feature film category at the Oscars or being considered for the Golden Globes.

But I think we should use the event more cleverly. There are a lot of dots in Europe. We should be cleverer about connecting those dots. We need to up our game a bit.

In five years, in 2028, it will be the 40th anniversary of the European Film Awards. My aim is that by then, the awards ceremony will have become a sort of not-to-miss stopover event on the way to recognition outside of Europe. I want it to become more of a show within Europe itself but also outside of Europe, with people saying, ‘Listen this is something that we need to keep an eye on.”

DEADLINE: Would you like to see a similar level of awards season campaigning for the EFAs as we see for the Oscars?

WOUTER KNOL: As they say in German, “There’s still a lot of air to fill.” We don’t have the budgets, the infrastructure and 90-plus year tradition of the Oscars so I don’t see us as a competitor.

But I do feel that within Europe there is so much that could be done. The priority, even for European directors, is very automatically to do promotion within the American system, which is fine and great because it’s America, which is an important place to promote films, but I do think it’s a pity for Europe and all the really good films that are being made here and the incredible list of talent.

DEADLINE: The push to make the European Film Awards part of the larger awards season makes perfect sense, but given how busy filmmakers and talents get in this period, do you think they will be available?

WOUTER KNOL: We spoke with talent agents all over Europe before taking the decision. Most responded that it would really make a difference because they try to make sure their clients are there when they get recognition at that time of year.

Our timing will also be tied with the Oscars. We’ve made an agreement with our colleagues there, that our ceremony will take place the weekend before the Academy voting closes. This means our winners will be announced on the Saturday, and Academy voters will still have four, five days to make their final choices.

DEADLINE: One of the criticisms of the awards is that the nominees and winners tend to hail from the bigger European filmmaking territories like France, the U.K. and the Nordics. What can you do to ensure that filmmakers from smaller territories are part of the conversation?

WOUTER KNOL: The European reality is that films are being co-produced.  Green Border, for example, involves partners from Poland, the Czech Republic, Belgium and France, and most the other nominees are also international co-productions. So, these smaller countries do feel they’re nominated, trust me and they’re all here.

DEADLINE: Another issue has been that the nomination calendar and timing of the awards means that the selection is more skewed to films that have premiered at festivals in the first half of the year. Do you think the new date will change this?

WOUTER KNOL: I think it will help us include more films launched towards the end of the year at festivals like Venice and Sebastian. At the moment, it can be difficult.

DEADLINE: On that note, a few big European fall festival titles do seem to be missing from this year’s nominee list such as Yorgos Lanthimos’ Venice Golden Lion winner Poor Things and J.A. Bayona’s Society Of Snow.

WOUTER KNOL: Actually, Society Of Snow features in the craft excellence awards with a couple of winners. It was added to the Academy Selection but really at the last minute. People were like this is really a great film and it should be included.

On Poor Things, Lanthimos is a member of the European Film Academy but in the end the American distributor didn’t want to include the film in the awards ahead of the theatrical release in January. They didn’t want to take the risk. They might have considered such as move if the awards had been in January.

On the other hand, however, The Zone Of Interest, is the same story but they took the risk. They said, “Well, it’s such a European film”. It’s pretty brave of them. They put the film out to all the European Film Academy members and did cinema screenings all over Europe.