Wroclaw and its sparkling National Music Forum excelled in its status as the host of the European Film Awards, which ended up being dominated by politics following numerous high profile political events in 2016.
Going by the number of politically motivated speeches at the ceremony, it appears that the fallout over the refugee crisis, the brexit vote, the Polish constitutional crisis, as well as election results in the US, have all touched a nerve amongst those in the European film scene.
Politics even came into play before the ceremony began, as news emerged that Polish broadcaster TVP had refused to show the event due to the host being Polish actor Maciej Stuhr.
Stuhr has criticised PiS' never-ending obsession with the Smolensk air crash investigation, something that has riled the Polish Government. The actor also appeared in the film Pokłosie, which is deemed as "anti-Polish" by some (due to it depicting Poles killing Jews during WW2). Free-to-air commercial channel TVN stepped in to fill the void however, showing the event in full on Saturday night.
As he addressed the audience for the first time, Stuhr didn't take long to show his support for Europe:
“I love Europe. It’s warm here, I like it. Thank you. Film is a wonderful thing. Cinema is a wonderful way to enter the skin of the other, you see the story of someone, and you start to understand them, and then you can discover that under the surface of what you see, they fear what you fear, they love what you love and they’re quite like you”
Wroclaw President Rafał Dutkiewicz also got political, continuing his critique of the nationalist movements in Poland and Europe:
“There is a wave of nationalism going through our continent and nationalism is something similar to stinking sweat. One has to wash it from his body. Take a shower, Europe!”
The first award winner to make their speech was Malgorzata Szumowska, who took home the People's Choice Award for her acclaimed drama Body. Before giving her thanks to those who helped her win the award, Szumowska continued the vibe by proudly shouting "Yes! Poland is a part of Europe!"
The pro-European theme resonated in the choice of music too, with the Wrocław University of Economics performing Zbigniew Preisner’s Song for the Unification of Europe.
Acclaimed Polish director Agnieszka Holland, who has directed episodes of the hit American political drama House Of Cards, was another speaker to get political. Speaking in a recorded message from what looked like a replica of the Oval Office, Holland stated she would not leave the White House until “democracy and tolerance” were restored.
— European Film Awards (@EuroFilmAwards) December 10, 2016
Dutch producer Leontine Petit, who worked on the 2015 hit The Lobster, also got in on the act:
“I really think it is our duty to tell people that Europe is a miracle that we should celebrate, not something we should oppose”
Arguably the biggest star present on the night, former James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, felt obliged to comment on the current political climate too:
“In these turbulent times we find ourselves in, more than ever we need to come together as artists, as filmmakers, to try and make sense of what is happening in our countries. To all you young men and women out there: Keep good strength, keep good faith, whatever the politics of your nation is, be true to yourself. Be bold and go forth.”
Then in a side-step away from internal EU politics, Pussy Riot singer Maria Alyokhina took aim at Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The words of the actors haven't been appreciated by all however. The comments sections on articles by gazeta.pl and Gazeta Wroclawska are awash with negativity about the ceremony from people of a different political persuasion. A few of the translated quotes from below are representative of the backlash:
"I prefer to be a nationalist and live in a country with compatriots than to be leftist and live with emigrants and parasites."
"PiS took power like Donald Trump. Who gave you the right place as the wiser part of society? Why do not you respect the views of others than your own?"
" I will vote again for PiS. This pushy propoganda only strengthens my support for the party."
"The gala was entirely organized and directed by the Germans. It was very politicized and didn't have a lot to do with the cinematography. It was one big leftist EU and pro-refugee propaganda."
While the politics of the ceremony sparked a lot of debate online, few could argue that Wroclaw did anything other than a stellar job of hosting the ceremony. The state-of-the art National Music Forum looked absolutely superb in its role as host venue, and hopefully more high profile events will be coming its way soon. The awards have brought more positive media attention to the city and hopefully will generate further tourism going into 2017.