The EU film fest began as a collaboration between various EU governments and cultural institutes. “We started with Germany, France, Sweden and others, and then it expanded over the years,” said Lars Henriksson, Sweden’s Honorary Consul in Toronto, and co-founder of the festival. The festival was originally hosted on consul premises, but this limited space could only accommodate 100 audience members and attendance soon exceeded capacity. The festival’s growing attendance made it necessary to move screenings to the Royal Theatre on College Street, which can house about 600 people. Even in this larger venue, many screenings fill out.
Henriksson explained why the idea of a film festival was appealing to him. “This is something most countries can participate in. With few exceptions, every country has produced films.” Each country in the EU is invited to submit a film. Because the festival also aims to support independent filmmakers, priority is given to films that have not yet screened in Toronto. This is also pragmatic: “One of the reasons we do this,” Henriksson noted, “is that the more broadly released films are already scheduled for commercial showings, and they are more difficult to get a hold of.”
“We want to show both to ourselves and to Canadian audiences what is happening in Europe today,” Henriksson explained. With this in mind, immigration is a major topic addressed throughout the festival. While these films vary in genre, they all touch on serious social issues.
“Last year, we had one about an [immigrant] heart surgeon who ends up working in the subway in Stockholm,” Henriksson recalled. This kind of common experience can resonate with Canadian viewers, many of whom are immigrants themselves. Henriksson added that responding to the immigrant experience is a concrete example of where inter-cultural dialogue is beneficial. Henriksson commented that in this regard, “Canada is a generation or so ahead of a country like Sweden.”
While some films are about current issues, others have touched upon modern history. “Some countries have used their films as starting points for discussions. Last year... we had a German-Polish film that dealt with the situation in Poland during the [Second World] War.. then we had a seminar discussion with historians,” says Henriksson, who hopes that the festival will continue to be used as an educational opportunity.
Henriksson has great expectations for the festival’s prospects. “There are over a hundred film festivals in Toronto every year, and we are in the top ten,” he enthused. Admission to the event is free, which is a crucial aspect of its success and remains important to the festival organizers. This sense of mission is evident in Henriksson’s objective: “We want to showcase Europe and the European Union, and make people aware that there are other things going on in Europe besides problems with the Euro.”
This year’s European Union Film Festival runs from the 17th-30th at the Royal Cinema on 608 College Street, and all admission is free.