The stories told by these films are gripping. Stories about former border guards who remember the Iron Curtain era. About young Europeans from Poland, Latvia and Italy who, while in search of happiness, wind up in an emergency shelter in Berlin. About refugees who never lose hope while in their camp. About women fighting for equal opportunities and about children dreaming of the great outdoors during a summer of coronavirus quarantine. The stories are as diverse as the young filmmakers who came up with them – sometimes abstract and allegorical, sometimes quiet and searching, sometimes shrill and tangible - but always touching.

How do young people view our united Europe? What do they appreciate and what are they critical of? Which issues are dear to the filmmakers’ hearts? This is what the Europe in Film project intends to find out. Funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, the Deutsche Filmakademie Produktion, the German body that produces annual awards ceremonies and supports local film makers, launched a short film competition at the end of 2019 for students at German-speaking film schools and for freelancers, to mark Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU.

“With this competition, we want to promote debate about Europe and raise awareness of this subject among the European public,” says Claudia Loewe, producer und head of Deutschen Filmakademie Produktion in Berlin. “The medium of film is particularly well suited for this because it’s so intense and diverse and because it moves many people.”

For many stories in film or literature, Europe is an inspiration. This is also true for Greek mythology. In this illustration, Europa rides Zeus, a god turned into a bull © Deutsche Filmakademie/Moana Doll

Fifty-five concepts from 11 universities and four independent filmmakers were submitted. Twelve were selected by a prestigious jury at the Deutsche Filmakademie. In the autumn of 2020 – a few months later than planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic – filming started. Europe in Film was originally conceived as a cross-border project. The films were intended to be produced in cooperation with teams from Portugal and Slovenia in particular, since Germany is working closely with both countries as part of the EU’s Trio Presidency. However, this was virtually impossible due to the pandemic.

“It was very exciting for us to see that many concepts revolve around three issues,” Loewe says. Firstly, borders in Europe. How much do we take a Europe without borders for granted and where are borders at risk of reappearing? Secondly, reflecting on the subject of “Fortress Europe”. Many of the filmmakers have critically examined how privileged people in Europe are. What does this mean, how should we deal with this, and to what extent does this blind us to inequality and exclusion in Europe itself? Thirdly, European feminism. Does it exist at all and what exactly is meant by it? At the end of the day, women’s situations vary greatly from country to country in Europe.

“All of the films are characterised by a pro-European attitude,” explains Moana Doll, one of project coordinators at the Deutsche Filmakademie. “The filmmakers are evidently united by the feeling that it’s a privilege to be European. And yet at the same time, they take a remarkably critical look at Europe. I think this is about the belief that we need precisely this critical view of our united Europe if we want to preserve its achievements.”

A jury will award prizes worth 3,000 euro each for the three best films. There is also an audience award, also worth 3,000 euro.

Want to join in?

Which film tells the most powerful story about Europe, in your opinion? You can vote for your favourite film at the website, Alles Kino (link below), between 4 and 10 December.

© unsplash Markus Spiske

12 x Europe in film. A first look:

Die Ehemaligen Grenzorte (Former Border Towns)

A film about former border towns between the former East and West Germanies, and three people whose personal fate is closely bound up with them. In each story, there is a key moment at the border that changes the lives of the protagonists forever.

Direction and production: Paul Scholten, Louis Merki, Welf Reinhart; Munich University of Television and Film

Der Grenzer (The Border Guard)

A border guard has been guarding a post in the forest for decades. Times are peaceful and the border is open – until a young man comes along to replace the old guard and close the barrier again. The border guard is faced with a choice between loyalty to the system and his own values. A parable about responsibility, freedom and courage.

Direction and production: Sven Gielnik, Julian Haisch, Moritz Lauer; Film Academy Baden-Württemberg

The Battle for our Voices

This film tells the story of Natalia, a woman who stands up for human rights and equality, and protests against the ban on abortion. In 2016, she organised the first national women’s strike in Poland, called Black Monday. This gave rise to the International Women’s Strike, a coalition of women from more than 60 countries around the world.

Direction and production: Jennifer Mallmann, Fabienne Priess; Film Academy Baden-Württemberg

Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods)

A wealthy community goes to the Mediterranean Sea for a burial at sea, onboard a yacht. On the way back, the ship collides with something enormous floating under the surface of the water. An unconscious bull is rescued and laid on the beach. A metaphor for Europe?

Direction and production: Faraz Shariat, David Uzochukwu, Nico Blandeknhorn, Jens Maier-Rothe; Freelance submission

Handbook for a Privileged European Woman

There are people who ride bulls, and everyone thinks, wow, they’re conquering nature. And then there are people who ride a bull - and all anybody sees is their breasts bouncing up and down. Jackie belongs to the second category and wants to be perceived differently at long last.

Direction and production: Alma Buddecke, Stella Markert, Felix Schreiber; Film Academy Baden-Württemberg

Never Again 1943

Lea and Thomas are playing beneath a tall tree when they become clandestine witnesses of an execution. As if hypnotised, Lea runs after a butterfly and gets caught between soldiers and hostages. In a dreamlike sequence, she begins to take note of what is going on. Seconds before the moment the cruel act takes place, the characters are portrayed from a childlike perspective uninformed by notions of inequality and racism.

Direction and production: Mario Dahl, Stefanie Gödicke, Magdalena Wolf; Film Academy Baden-Württemberg

Hotel Europa

A Berlin youth hostel, which was turned into an emergency shelter for homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic, suddenly closes its doors. What impact does this have on the people who have sought refuge there? Three portraits.

Direction and production: Nele Dehnenkamp, Franzis Walther; Film Academy Baden-Württemberg

Stadtpinguin (City Penguin)

What influence does the COVID-19 pandemic have on children’s everyday lives? Cooped up in their stuffy apartment, two sisters come up with adventures for their lost cuddly penguin in the summer of 2020.

Direction and production: Florinda Frisardi, Daria Wichmann, Cecilia Trautvetter; German Film and Television Academy Berlin

Mother of Freedom

This film turns the spotlight on the impact of the pandemic on refugees in Greece. The focus is on Parwana and Arash, who live in a camp in northern Athens. Their perception of Europe is at the heart of this short film. What dreams do they associate with Europe? How have these dreams changed?

Direction and production: Julius Schmitt, Feline Gerhardt, Tim Kohlen; Film Academy Baden-Württemberg

Nicht Weit Raus (Not Far Out)

An extreme swimmer goes to the sea for training at dawn. On this particular day, the waves are particularly powerful, and the man can hardly keep his head above water. In what are probably his final moments, he makes an unexpected discovery.

Direction and production: Beran Ergün; Mainz University of Applied Sciences

Salidas (New Beginnings)

This dance film tells the story of mortician Giralda, who transports the deceased to the afterlife. The blend of powerful flamenco dance and the surroundings, the historic Niederfinow Boat Lift, is an allegorical examination of northern and southern Europe, movement and silence, farewell and eternity.

Direction and production: Michael Fetter Nathansky, Virginia Martin, Anna-Sophie Philippi; Freelance submission

Katzenjammer (Feeding the Hungry)

A young refugee is denied help. Blinded by hunger, he ends up killing a cat in a village. His meeting with the owner, an elderly farmer, brings an unexpected turn of events.

Direction and production: Flavio Yuri Rigamonti, Marina Ghersinich; German Film and Television Academy Berlin​​​​​​​

You can find more information on the cultural programme of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union here, or in the following film.

The cultural programme of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union