Belgian director Lukas Dhont received the LUX Audience Award handed over by European Parliament’s Vice President Evelyn Regner. The LUX Audience Award is an annual project of the European Parliament and the European Film Academy, in partnership with the European Commission and Europa Cinemas.
Launched amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the new award aimed to further strengthen ties between politics and the European public by engaging audiences in pressing debates through inspiring films. Only three years later, the LUX Audience Award has positioned itself as the biggest audience award in the world, and as a novelty at this edition, the number of nominated films increased from three to five. The other four finalists: Alcarràs by Carla Simón, Burning Days by Emin Alper, Triangle of Sadness by Ruben Östlund and Will-o’-the-Wisp by João Pedro Rodrigues, all of them were acclaimed titles which showcase the quality and diversity of recent European cinema.
Since 11 December, after the official announcement of the five nominated films during the 35th European Film Awards in Reykjavík, European audiences and the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have been invited to rate the films online, with each group having a weight of 50% in determining the final result. The rating period closed on 12 June with over 45,000 registered ratingsand more than 500 free screenings organised across the European Union, setting a new record in terms of participation compared to previous editions. Close emerged as the title with the highest overall score from the public and the MEPs.
EP President Roberta Metsola has delivered the opening speech during the Award ceremony, which was held for the first time in the Hemicycle of the European Parliament in Brussels, in the presence of MEPs, film crews from the five nominated films and the public, with almost 1,500 registered attendees. “These films shed light on pressing concerns of our time, and they inspire positive change. […] And in so doing, you remind us that our work in standing for freedom and equality is far from complete. […] Through compelling narratives, the five LUX Audience Award nominees inspire us to take action in the face of adversity, challenge the status quo and be proponents of change. You invite us to strive for a more humane and compassionate world. Because together, through collective effort, we can work towards a future that is better for all of us. That is also the message of the European Union project as a whole. United in diversity,” said Metsola, who also seized the opportunity to encourage the audience to take part in the upcoming European elections of 2024. Metsola then gave the floor to Vice-President Evelyn Regner, who handed the trophy to the winning film. Representatives from the 27 Times Cinema project were also present at the ceremony and, together with winners from the audience and Chair of the Committee on Culture and Education Sabine Verheyen, handed out awards to the remaining four finalists, who also had a chance to address the Hemicycle.
Director Lukas Dhont collected the prize, accompanied by co-writer Angelo Tijssens. “I feel incredibly lucky to be here, among five films that each, in their own way, talk about us as humans, our paradoxes and our consistencies. Our longing for intimacy, for magic, for a place that feels like somewhere we can invent ourselves, a place where we can contain multitudes. Thank you to all of the Europeans who went out to see these films. The attempt to connect to every individual audience member is our true desire,” said Dhont, who also addressed the worrying rise in anti-LGBTIQ+ stances and policies in Europe. “Human rights are universal, inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. To all our audiences, to all the kids who deserve to see stories that represent them, we stand by you. Because you, like every single human being, have the right to discover who you are and who you want to be. Whoever. Wherever. We think of you, and we are hopeful and proud,” stated the Belgian director.
Following his acclaimed first feature, Girl – which was part of the LUX Official Selection in 2018 – the Belgian filmmaker presented Close in the main competition of the 75th Cannes Film Festival, where it won the renowned Grand Prix. Focusing on two teenagers who have to deal with the consequences of peer pressure and toxic masculinity, the film offers a tender and heartbreaking story about boyhood friendship and grief, with two amazing performances from newcomers Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele. The film was produced by Belgian outfit Menuet, together with Diaphana Films (France), Topkapi Films (Netherlands) and Versus Production (Belgium), in co-production with VTM and RTBF, while The Match Factory handles international sales. After its premiere at Cannes, the film enjoyed a successful run last year, garnering much praise and numerous accolades at different festivals and events (such as four nominations for the European Film Awards). It was also selected to represent Belgium at the 2023 Oscars.
The programme of activities in Brussels also included a press seminar featuring representatives of the nominated films and MEPs, where they discussed some of the issues raised by the shortlisted titles, as well as a press conference with the winner after the ceremony. On 28 June, the LUX selection committee, which is once again chaired by Mike Downey, is expected to meet on the premises of the Parliament to discuss the selection for 2024, which will be unveiled at the Venice Film Festival in September, thus kicking off a new edition of the award. Meanwhile, the five 2023 LUX Audience Award finalists, which have been subtitled in the 24 official EU languages, will continue travelling across Europe in the coming months through screenings in the different member states.