European Culture and the Moving Image
An introduction to our special feature on European Culture and the Moving Image.
From the earliest days of film as a sideshow attraction to the present multiplatform mode of reception, moving images in Europe—in their broadest sense—have been imagining communities in various forms. Filmmakers and TV creators from the regional, national, and European level know that cinema projected on the big screen, or TV series streaming on our small screens, allows viewers to be in solidarity with people whom they will never meet. Simultaneous viewing, whether experienced silently in theaters, with a live tweeting commentary, or across consoles, can create affective bonds not just to a national community, but variously to the local or to the transnational, to the gendered or raced, diasporic or migrant. Such potential has been central to a European project that contends with the linguistic and cultural diversity across Europe. Since the newsreel days of Wilhelm the “Media Kaiser,” politicians and policy makers in Europe have long recognized that moving images can instigate significant public sphere debates, bring people together, or incite culture war divisions.
Our goal with this collection is not to offer a complete picture of European moving images but to explore some recurrent and emerging themes, narratives, technologies, and archival practices of image making in Europe. Europe is, of course, home to some of the grand cinema nations and earliest television industries. Filmmakers and TV producers in the various centers of European audiovisual production have made countless masterpieces of art cinema, longest running TV series, as well as a multitude of popular culture delights now streaming into the home. They have done so in various conditions, industrial and independent, free market and fascist, censored and underground. Historically, national policy sought to regulate the flow of images, at times leading to state control over the film and TV industry. But as we see in the essays collected here, conditions of funding, production, distribution, exhibition, and reception establish a European audiovisual sector. It is not a singular sector without contradictions. Currently, the EU’s Creative Europe Program, nation and city-wide screen media subsidies and tax rebates, and co-funding schemes seek to overcome the national borders and synergize a European audiovisual sector, while some populist politicians seek to surround national audiences with firewalls. European screen and media policy in its history can just as much allow for broadcast without borders as it can establish import quotas that restrict the flow of information. But in the work here of Michael Gott, Hester Baer, and Jill Smith, we see that television series (across streaming, cable, and broadcast platforms) have now become a prominent mode of transmission of images of Europe to Europeans—and beyond.
According to European Audiovisual Observatory reports, screen production has boomed in Europe over the 2010s. Between 2007 and 2016, more than 18,000 films were made in Europe, and, overall, film production volume grew by 47 percent in a decade. When it comes to series and films produced for European TV channels and VOD platforms, even only in 2019 a total of 1,131 new TV fiction titles and 13,034 hours of TV fiction were produced, and from 2015 to 2019, production of high-end TV series grew 54 percent. Overall, about 1,000 audiovisual titles, 20,000 episodes, and 13,500 hours are produced each year in the twenty-three countries in the EU.
As we began to work on this issue, the pandemic seemed to impact dramatically and negatively the sector of image production and exhibition across Europe. Cinemas shuttered, production came to a halt, and festivals were cancelled or moved online. This shutting down of the audiovisual sector made us question if we needed to rethink the goals we had set. But after the first shock, production quickly started up again as viewing in the lockdown intensified. Production companies developed new filming protocols for the pandemic, and demand for moving images via streaming services expanded. US productions moved away from the country at the height of the pandemic towards European sites and studios with higher health security, isolation, and testing possibilities.
In actuality, this dynamism of the moving image industry is not new. Early on, the film industry has proven able to dynamically respond to changing economies and societies. But recent studies by the European Audiovisual Observatory and the Nostradamus Report team at the Göteborg film festival substantiate that what appeared at the start of the pandemic to be a slowdown in media production quickly gave way to an intensification of trends that were already present in the European media industry. Social distancing increased home viewing and intensified video on demand usage. Because of expanded streaming services, European productions reached smaller markets and built larger audiences than when theatrical release is the primary mode of distribution and reception. Younger audiences in Europe also watched more European productions—that is, work produced primarily by partners in other European countries. Yet, the pandemic also reinvigorated open-air cinemas and fostered services that allowed for “teleparty,” socially-distanced, collective viewing during lockdowns. The shuttering of movie theaters actually underscored how viewers do appreciate the collective viewing experience. And the Audiovisual Observatory’s Yearbook shows that streaming did not replace theatrical. Rather, it gave spectators an option to watch in the cinema or at home. It is likely that cinemas will continue to act as curators of streamed options—as many arthouse cinemas did during the pandemic. Developments such as social media, new publics, serialized production, and hybrid exhibition practices are not restricted to Europe. However, the 2 Billion Euros for recovery of the European creative and cultural sectors provided by the European Commission synergizes even further both EU and national cultural policies, and fosters European transnational digital cooperation.
We are thus pleased that the contributions in this special feature represent the breadth and diversity of European screen cultures, past and present. Historically, collections of essays on European cinema were simply a collection of discussions of a film from the various national cinemas of Europe—a Europe of nations approach. This special issue does not follow this understanding of Europe as an amalgam of national work that can be compared. Rather, this issue contains essays that present as deep and historical the complex connectivity of the European moving images. It is a heterogeneous collection with essays that reveal new possibilities of archival research made possible by alternative and audience generated archives. There are essays that address the rising power and reach of digital platforms and high-end television series made in Europe. Others demonstrate the continuing relevance and currency in European screen media of themes such as work, precarity, migration, and the post-socialist transition, or explore new and alternative communities and networks of belonging, including post-migrant and Queer cinemas.
But we want to identify some of the common and significant theoretical critical insights that emerge across the essays. One common critical insight is the relation of cinema to its European public. European cinema, in particular, is a key element in the effort to construct what sociologist Klaus Eder terms the “narrative” boundaries of European citizenship (2006). Similarly, European cinema can be described as establishing what Hermann Glaser three decades earlier had designated a cultural community—as Irina Herrschner and Benjamin Nickl remind us in their contribution to this issue. One recent example of this ability of cinema to offer an experience of a European cultural citizenry is the revisioning of the LUX Prize. The European Parliament established this film award in 2007 in cooperation with the European Film Academy. At that time, the stated objective of the prize was to “illuminate the public debate on European integration and to facilitate the diffusion of European films within the European Union.” That award, selected by members of the European Parliament, was replaced with the LUX Audience Award in 2020. And here is where it gets interesting for us: the LUX Audience Award sought to bring the debate more directly to the public, and the competition echoes Glaser and Eder’s calls to view cinema culture as a key to European civil society. The aims of the reworked LUX Prize are to strengthen ties “between politics and citizens by inviting European audiences to become active protagonists by voting on their favorite films. The aim is to get audiences engaged in debates about Europe, specifically in ‘living Europe’ through inspiring European films.” LUX prize finalists reach audiences across the continent through Europa Cinemas, a network that links more than 1,200 cinemas in forty-three countries. Supported by the European Commission and the French CNC (Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée), the network and its many programs and initiatives to circulate and foster discussion about European films reaches an annual audience of 82 million. However small this figure is compared to the total population of Europe, the institutional support for initiatives aimed at bringing European films to European audiences underscores the importance of cultivating narratives of Europe and Europeanness.
This link between spectatorship and European citizenship, viewing and belonging, is underlined in several of the essays in this issue. For Peter Verstraten, this connection is ethical. He identifies a strand of European art house film that he argues eschews conventional relations between film and spectator by refusing to offer viewers a secure position from which to interpret the film. “Code unknown” cinema requires viewers to develop their own reading of the film and the ethical dilemmas it presents, a process that Verstraten suggests is a form of resistance to the contemporary global onslaught of images. Other contributors focus on the spatial dynamics of the viewer’s interpretative process. Lora Sariaslan suggests that the urban video art of Nilbar Güreş enables the viewer to travel to the moment that is documented in the video, thus in the process being encouraged to understand how cities are mapped by the daily trajectories of the “strangers” who reside and work within them. The work creates connections to and solidarity with people who were once those strangers. Michael Gott argues that “border series” have flourished on European television and streaming services because they respond to a desire on the part of the public to understand and mentally map the changing parameters of Europe. The interplay between audience and production of media is more tangibly evident with series. As Gott’s article on “border series” contends, algorithms and ratings contribute to the reproduction and circulation of certain prevalent and popular narrative strands and aesthetic approaches. Anne-Marie Scholz also reflects on the interface between digital platforms and viewing practices with her discussion of how popular European cinema is being “archived” on YouTube by fans. The result, she suggests, is a more inclusive conception of European popular cinema.
A further theoretical critical insight that runs across the essays is the possibilities of visual technologies to create a European viewer. The turn to streaming and video on demand by Gott and Scholz or by Baer and Smith in their discussion of Babylon Berlin makes clear the importance of the new digital distribution possibilities as key to a new construction of a European spectator. As the European Audiovisual Observatory’s Yearbook underscored, European cultural citizen can only exist if viewers have access to images from other European regions and languages. Without access there is little possibility for a European viewer, one who watches those images with a sense of immediate interest and personal connection. But streaming is not the only technology of European cinema. Philip Phillis’s article on Albanian cinema not only offers valuable insights into a vibrant film culture, but also points to the importance of European film festivals and co-funding for small cinemas like Albania. And Randall Halle’s project on the films of the European movements points to post-war newsreels as offering a point of emergence for a rich visual archive that shapes tacitly expectations of European spectators to the present.
A further and final common critical theoretical insight developed across the essays is the shifting relations of center and periphery, small and big cinemas, marginalization and inclusion, localism and transnationalism. Phillis’s discussion of Albanian cinema attends to the circulation of the extremely local in the broader transnational European; Albanian cinema is a cinema where thematically post-socialist transition and migration continue to occupy the thematic landscape, nevertheless it seeks the broader audiences of festivals and European arthouse cinemas. Likewise, Verstraten’s code unknown films, with their provocation of conventional spectator expectations, prove a minor genre can have big aesthetic impact and exceed national boundaries. Temenuga Trifonova’s essay attends to films about precarity and the economically marginalized, and does so with a broad sweep across Europe. Films of precarity bring the financially disadvantaged and the politically disenfranchised into representation. And, similarly, Beverly Weber and Maria Stehle focus their discussion on the representation of groups marginalized by migration, as well as ethnic, gender and sexual exclusions. Their discussion of No Hard Feelings [Futur drei] (2020 Shariat) attends to migration and the possibilities of making post-migrant, Queer cinema. As with Trivonova, Stehle and Weber underscore European images potential to transform White European imagery, shift the center and periphery, and formulate alternative networks and communities of belonging.
Ipek Çelik Rappas is an Associate Professor of Media and Visual Arts at Koç University, Istanbul. She is the author of In Permanent Crisis: Ethnicity in Contemporary European Media and Cinema (University of Michigan Press, 2015). Her research topics include the representation of migrants and minorities in European cinema, popular genre films in Europe, and the role of arts and screen industries in the urban renewal of European cities. She has published articles in Cinema Journal, Continuum, Television and New Media and Studies in European Cinema.
Michael Gott is Associate Professor of Film & Media Studies and French at the University of Cincinnati. His books include French-language Road Cinema: Borders, Diasporas, Migration and “New Europe” and East, West and Centre: Reframing European Cinema Since 1989.
Randall Halle is the Klaus W. Jonas Professor of German Film and Cultural Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He directs the Film and Media Studies Program, as well as the Critical European Culture Studies Program. His books include The Europeanization of Cinema and German Film after Germany.
- “European ‘Code Unknown’ Cinema by Peter Verstraten” by Peter Verstraten
- “Decolonial Queer Futures in No Hard Feelings [Faraz Shariat, Futur Drei 2020]” by Maria Stehle and Beverly Weber
- “European Revolution on Film: Pudovkin’s The End of St. Petersburg and Renoir’s La Marseillaise” by Casey Harison
- “The New European Cinema of Precarity” by Temenuga Trifonova
- “National, Transnational, Transitional: Albanian cinema in the 2000s” by Philip E. Phillis
- “Europe’s Moving Images” by Randall Halle
- “’Kultur Als Kopfkino:’ Hermann Glaser’s Critical Visions for the Arts and Social Entertainment: Translating German ‘Culture as Civil Right’ for the European Project” by Irina Herrschner and Benjamin Nickl
- “Babylon Berlin: Weimar-Era Culture and History as Global Media Spectacle” by Hester Baer and Jill Suzanne Smith
- “Making and Mapping European Border Series: From Bridges and Tunnels to Dark Forests” by Michael Gott
- “’Eurotrash’ Films, Hollywood, and the Possibilities and Limits of YouTube as a Media Archive for Popular European Film History” by Anne-Marie Scholz
- “What Moves Artists? Mapping Vienna through the Moving Images of Nilbar Güreş” by Lora Sariaslan
- German Cinema in the Age of Neoliberalism, reviewed by Adam Cook
- East German Film and the Holocaust, reviewed by Mariana Ivanova
“Creative Europe: Over €2 Billion to Support Cultural Sector.” Press Release: European Commission. May 26, 2021. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_21_2587.
Fontaine, Gilles, Francisco Javier Cabrera Blázquez, and Maja Cappello. “Yearbook 2020/2021 Key Trends: Television, Cinema, Video and On-Demand Audiovisual Services–The Pan-European Picture.” Yearbook. Strasbourg, FR: European Audiovisual Observatory, 2021. https://rm.coe.int/yearbook-key-trends-2020-2021-en/1680a26056.
Koljonen, Johanna. “Nostradamus Report: A Creative Explosion.” Göteborg: Göteborg Film Festival, January 24, 2020. https://goteborgfilmfestival.se/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/GFF20_nostradamus-webb-v2.pdf.
———. “Nostradamus Report: Transforming Storytelling Together.” Göteborg: Göteborg Film Festival, February 4, 2021. https://goteborgfilmfestival.se/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/GFF20_nostradamus-webb-v2.pdf.
 The German crime series Tatort began in 1970 on German public television station ARD, while the British soap opera Coronation Street began in 1960, making their runs significantly longer than the lauded American series The Simpsons (1989) or the variety show Saturday Night Live (1975).
 Julio Talavera, “Film Production in Europe: Production Volume, Co-Production and Worldwide Circulation,” (Strasburg: European Audiovisual Observatory, 2017), accessed June 20, 2021, https://rm.coe.int/filmproductionineurope-2017-j-talavera-pdf/1680788952.
 Blázquez, Cappello, Ene et al. Comparing this number to that in the US may be useful. According to Motion Picture Association report, in 2019, 814 feature films and 532 original TV series were produced in the US, Motion Picture Association, “Theme Report: 2020,” accessed June 21, 2021, https://www.motionpictures.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/MPA-2020-THEME-Report.pdf
 Gilles Fontaine, “Audiovisual fiction production in the European Union 2019 Edition,” (Strasburg: European Audiovisual Observatory, 2019), accessed June 24, 2021, https://rm.coe.int/audiovisual-fiction-production-in-the-eu-2019-edition/16809cfdda
 Helen Morgan-Parmett and Ipek A. Celik Rappas, “Inside or Out, Here or Elsewhere: Filming Location in Pandemic Times,” Mediapolis: A Journal of Cities and Culture 5, no.4 (2020), accessed June 12, 2021, https://www.mediapolisjournal.com/2020/10/inside-or-out-here-or-elsewhere/
 Fontaine, Blázquez, and Cappello, “Key Trends in the European Audiovisual Sector”; Koljonen, “Nostradamus Report: Transforming Storytelling Together”; Koljonen, “Nostradamus Report: A Creative Explosion.”
 “Creative Europe: Over €2 Billion to Support Cultural Sector.”