What moves media-makers in Europe? Nowhere else is this to be seen in a such a compact way and on such a high level as at the Prix Europa. Check out this interview with Festival Director, Susanne Hoffmann, on the festival’s 30th anniversary.
Ms. Hoffmann, hardly anyone outside the media sector knows anything about the Prix Europa. It is, however, the biggest festival of its kind. So what is it all about?
The Prix Europa is a competition to select and honour the best European TV, radio and online productions of the year. And there are hundreds of European media-makers involved in deciding who deserves the awards. 231 productions have been nominated 2016, all of them of top-calibre quality.
How do you define quality?
For me, a program has quality if it broadens my horizon, makes me reflect on its content. For our professional judges the focus is, of course, on craftsmanship. On the ballot paper, however, there is also the criterion “Overall Impression”. And once again we are faced with the question – how did the program grab me?
So the Prix Europa is a kind of competitive exhibition of European media?
Alongside the honouring of the best, we are particularly interested in developing contact with the media-makers. The Prix Europa is a work festival, a work camp, if you like. Apart from the awards ceremony there are no big lavish events. The most important thing is the run-up week before the festival, with everybody intensely watching and listening to what our colleagues have produced.
Why is that so important?
The authors often work alone and under difficult conditions and are given little feedback. They are lonely people who have stories they simply have to get off their chest. Every now and then they have to have the feeling – I'm not alone.
To know the viewing and listening habits of other countries
One of the Prix Europa’s special features is the open jury session. How are they organised?
The authors sit among the judges during the performance and afterwards everybody joins in the discussion. What is particularly valuable is the fact that the exchange takes place on a European level. Many productions today are co-productions, which are sold abroad. It is important to know the viewing and listening habits of other countries.
For movies and TV series subtitles can be displayed, but how does that work when listening to a radio entry?
Every manuscript is translated into English. So you listen to a Finnish radio play in the original and have the English script in your hands. There is always a special atmosphere whenever these entries are being assessed – as if you were in a church. A hundred people are sitting there in one room, all of them as quiet as a mouse, and highly concentrated – heaven forbid if a chair were to creak.
The continent is changing
2016 you have received entries from 35 countries. Does that mean that your definition of Europe goes beyond the 28 member states of the EU?
Absolutely! When it all first started in Amsterdam back in 1987, only EU countries took part. The idea back then was for the Prix Europa to always be held in the European capital of culture of that particular year. In 1988 it was Berlin and that is where we clearly decided and stated that we see Europe as a continent. No way were we prepared to exclude the East! At the time GDR TV took part, and Bulgaria, too. The idea of the festival touring round Europe, at some point, became too expensive and that is why we have been firmly based in Berlin since 1996.
As the theme for this year’s 30th anniversary of the festival you have chosen “Changing Europe”. Why?
We mean it in an ambiguous way. Europe is changing. And we are changing Europe. Programme makers are players, not just neutral observers. This has become clear to many over the past few years. The following question speaks for itself – should we speak of a “refugee crisis”? Or should we find another way of expressing this?
Every year in your festival program, you see what is moving Europe. What are the issues at the moment?
Crises! All over the place! Economic crises, terror, the division of society, migration of peoples – the continent is changing. This is not only evident in documentaries, but also in fiction entries. Many feature films and series these days are political. There is no cosy, ideal world.
Made in Germany
Germany is Europe’s largest media producer. Does that automatically mean that it also has a lot of good ideas for programs?
A lot of good things are “Made in Germany”. 36 productions from Germany have been entered at the festival. For example, the feature film Das Weiße Kaninchen (The White Rabbit), which deals with cyber-grooming. And the series Ku'damm 56. But the German broadcasters are like big container ships – it takes time for things to start moving. Now that so much has changed in the media landscape, the moment has come for small countries to make the big time. They are flexible and forced to cooperate when it comes to larger projects. Belgium, Holland and the Scandinavian countries do this very well.
And who is setting the tone in the online sector?
We tend to think that the Internet is so strongly dominated by English, but I find France very strong. In our online category the most exciting and also the most expensive things come from there.
There are 13 program categories at the Prix Europa. “Digital Audio” has been added this year. What sort of things can we listen to in this category?
We want to show that exciting things are also being produced outside the broadcasting stations. In the audio field, in particular, individual authors can produce good things cheaply and without having to go through anything complicated. On an international level, the trend is for great features and radio plays to be produced outside the stations and to be financed differently. We like that. We want good material to be developed and to be listened to by as many people as possible – no matter what or where.
Susanne Hoffmann is the Festival Director of the Prix Europa and Secretary-General of Input, an international conference for public television stations. She has been a member of the team since the Prix Europa first kicked off in 1987.