2020 Welcome Addresses
Photo: Damil Kalogjera

Mike Downey

EFA Chairman
The Winds of Change

Who would have thought a year ago, when I took up the post of Chairman of the European Film Academy, after six years as deputy and nearly a dozen as member of the board,  that this first year would be marked by such a changing of habits, the need to become accustomed to limitations, and the absolute importance to hope for things to get better soon? And yet it has, forcing most of us to declare home into our office, seeing planned projects be delayed or cancelled, wondering what the future might look like. It hasn’t been an easy year at all.

Nevertheless, 2020 has also rung in some crucial changes. In times like these, we have realised even more that community is key, and that solidarity and support are words that gain strength when put into action. We have experienced that plans are great, but can be changed by unexpected events that are completely out of our control. It doesn’t necessarily make the plans less valuable, but it forces us to rethink, restructure, and restart them – often in a more creative way, sometimes with a new urgency.

Essential EFA topics such as support of filmmakers facing political opposition or even persecution, which led this year to formally launching the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk with our partners at IDFA (Amsterdam) and IFFR (Rotterdam), have evolved initially with great promise. Others, such as our Sustainability project, to which EFA has committed itself in 2019, have evolved into a completely different dimension in a year in which extensive travelling and the unsustainalble use of resources have been put on a hold, and events have migrated to virtual equivalents, for better or worse. The experiences of this year will help us to put this important project on a new, and realistic level – especially with the reality of our EFA forest just outside Reykjavik already sprouting with life.

But there is more change in the air: 2020 has also been a year in which knew we would have to say farewell to our long-time serving EFA President Wim Wenders and EFA Director Marion Döring, who are both stepping down after having been with us in their current roles for 24 years. I have worked with both of them for such a long time, and it is hard to imagine EFA without having them around in the way things used to be. Whilst we mourn their departure – they themselves will be the first to say that we must look to the future and new horizons.  Technically speaking new EFA President is assured but let’s wait for that official announcement. On top of this, a new EFA Director was announced already in Spring this year. With the arrival of Matthijs Wouter Knol in January 2021, the Academy will accelerate itself into an organisation that is strategically adapting itself to the quickly changing world we are living and working in. Given his record, Matthijs will put his weight behind a more diverse and inclusive Academy, continue to position the Academy as a strong partner in Europe and actively build its community by helping to bring people together in times that show us this the essence of our work. We welcome Matthijs with open arms and entrust to him the stewardship of the Academy for the foreseeable future.

On the eve of Brexit, it’s good to remember that it was the great British naturalist Charles Darwin who never said, “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”  If we’ve learned one thing this year, it is that change can’t be stopped, but is better embraced knowing we can help shape the world we want to be a part of. What Einstein actually did say was:  “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” So we need to be smart.  With all change inside and outside, the EFA Board is looking forward to collaborate with its new President and Director and to face the coming years together, working on a strong European Film Academy for all its members.