Perspectives: a few thoughts on the relevance of the Gopo Awards
The Gopo Awards are the most important film awards in Romania and are often promoted as the “Romanian Oscars”. Both media and the winners present them as an ultimate acknowledgment of their work’s value. But is that really the case? I don’t think there is a better year than 2022 to discuss why the Gopo Awards should not be swallowed without chewing, as there is need for context and relativization to judge their true worth.
It must be said from the very beginning that if Radu Jude’s excellent Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn hadn’t won the Best Film Award, this article would have sounded completely different. Fortunately, the 800 professionals in our small film industry were not frightened by either the explicit sex scenes or the not at all flattering social commentary on the reality in Romania and voted for an incisive film instead of going for a safe choice, peppered with “healthy” values.
My sense is, if The Father Who Moves Mountains by Daniel Sandu had also been voted for Best Film, it would have been harder for Bad Luck Banging to win. We only have to look at the Oscars to see how often more than conventional films win the big trophy. The King’s Speech, Argo, Spotlight, The Shape of Water and The Green Book are not weak contenders, but they tackle already worn out topics, which have been encountered on the big screen countless times before. All these titles do is add a few new elements to an all too known recipe. They all won the Best Picture Award because Academy members preferred to reward a positive message or some “healthy” value – e.g., the King’s resilience in The King’s Speech or the interracial friendship in The Green Book, which is exactly what moves the general public – instead of innovation, or the courage to explore new forms in cinema.
Had The Father Who Moves Mountains gained the jury’s favor and received nominations in several major categories, the list of winners might have looked different. Fortunately, the jury of this year’s edition – of which I was also a part – rightly found five better options for the nominees competing for the gala’s most coveted trophy.
The absence of Întregalde
For me, the most frustrating aspect of the edition, both as a juror and as one who believes that the Gopo Awards are necessary and that Romanian filmmakers should also be awarded at home for their achievements, was the controversy (do we nominate it or not?) around Întregalde (dir. Radu Muntean) – in my opinion, a great Romanian film released last year.
Following a discussion with Radu Muntean’s production and distribution team and probably wanting to avoid a public scandal, the organizers of the event – the Romanian Film Promotion Association (APFR), told the jury not to consider Întregalde, which I already had on my list in at least eight categories. Each jury member had to find a replacement for Întregalde, and so, Radu Muntean’s film, although fully deserving, was not among those nominated.
It is particularly frustrating (I could have written the word in capital letters) for someone who imagined – perhaps naively – that they are participating in rewarding the crème de la crème of Romanian cinema to accept that one of the best productions of last year is completely ignored and that, voila, the list of winners does not amount to a complete map of what Romanian film had to offer in 2021.
This aspect calls into question the relevance of the edition and, unfortunately, this problem will continue to exist because the organizers have decided this year that, at all future editions, the directors who refuse to submit their films in the race, and thus deny access to jury and voting members to see the film, will be disregarded. Since both Radu Muntean and Cristian Mungiu (who premieres his new film, RMN, at Cannes this month) have refused in the past to have their films taken into consideration, one might expect that each subsequent edition in which the two release a film to be incomplete. This year, Întregalde was absent, next year it will probably be RMN, and so on. As long as this situation persists, the Gopo Awards will have a relative relevance and will only partially fulfill its main mission, that of guaranteeing the quality of Romanian film.
Personally, I think that a director’s refusal to offer their film to be taken into consideration is mainly a selfish act because the decision of a single person spoils the chance of winning an award for all the professionals who worked on that film. If the director has a shot at three trophies, Best Film (if they are also a producer), Best Director and Best Screenplay (if they are also the screenwriter), the film and its team have a chance at the other 11 categories out of the 14 dedicated to fiction feature films at the Gopo Awards.
It is unfair that the decision of a single filmmaker should deprive an entire team of the prospect of being rewarded and at the same time discourage the Gopo Awards in their role to offer an overview of the previous year’s cinematic achievements. Also worth mentioning here is the unfortunate situation from 2013, when Cristian Mungiu’s decision not to participate with Beyond the Hills determined the jury to cancel, due to lack of options, the category of Best Leading Actress. In other words, the decision of a single director nullified the chances of winning this award also for actresses starring in other films.
A little exercise of imagination about the voting procedure
The anonymous interviews taken by The Hollywood Reporter, in which voting members of the Academy reveal the reasoning that determines them to vote for one contender or another in a certain category, have become quite famous. A (rather safe) example from this year can be found here, but there were also editions in which the interviewee refused to consider an actress because they could not pronounce her name.
I have no reason to believe that the same happens with the Gopo Awards voting members, but I wonder how many of them see each and every film. This year, the 30 titles (fiction feature films, feature-length documentaries, fiction short films and short documentary films) that received at least one nomination have a cumulative length of 2,374 minutes, that is, just under 40 hours. Or, if you prefer, a whole working week (if you are not French)! And I didn’t take into account the five European films, which would have added about ten hours to the total length.
With the exception of film critics, who usually make an effort to see all the Romanian productions of the year, I deeply doubt that a professional in the industry really has the time and willingness to slip 40 hours of viewing into a busy work schedule. Surely there are voters who do that (and I apologize to them), but I expect them to make up a small percentage of the total number of voters. It is very possible that their availability was even lower in 2022, when the deadline for voting (May 2, 23:59) unfortunately overlapped with Easter and the holiday that many of us took on that occasion.
Now you may wonder: okay, but if voters don’t see the films, then who do they vote for? Well, they vote for the films they worked on, no matter what their quality. Or for their friends or for the ones they fancy the most amongst the nominees. Of course, I can’t prove that, but I don’t believe in the alternative at all, namely that a voting member spends 40 hours watching all the films and then votes objectively, regardless of their own professional history, only based on the film’s quality (which is subjective anyway).
And here I tend to believe that big-budget productions have an advantage over smaller projects. Simply put, the bigger the team, the better the chances of that film winning, for the simple reason that more people will vote for it. That’s why I think if The Father Who Moves Mountains had been nominated for Best Picture, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn would have been less likely to win. Aside from the fact that The Father Who Moves Mountains had a huge team (cast & crew) working on it, the values of the story (a father’s commitment to saving his son) are much more likely to arouse the sympathy (and approval) of voters than the incisive critique delivered by Bad Luck Banging.
Regardless of the above considerations, the Romanian film industry deserves these awards, because it simply does admirable things with insufficient resources; and the people in front of and behind the camera deserve to be rewarded not only at the big festivals but also at home. And the Gopo Awards are an excellent source of self-validation for filmmakers. Even if there is still room for improvement, the Gopo Awards are necessary.