Festivals for Europe: Analysing the Meaning and Function of Europe in Contemporary Cultural Festivals – Between Prestige Seekers & Political Activists

  • Abstract:

    This paper asks for the meaning and function of Europe in two very different cultural festivals that explicitly brand themselves as European. The first is ÉCU – The European Independent Film Festival. It is a ‘filmmakers’ festival dedicated to the ‘indie’ movies. In ÉCU, Europe is meant to gather the filmmakers, as well as endow them with prestige and recognition. The second festival, or rather a series of festival events, is Transeuropa, which has been taking place in 10-14 cities across Europe with the pursuit of deliberating on Europe and its problems ‘above the nation state’. It is platform of political advocacy through aesthetic culture, where Europe is very much a unifying symbol for different local activists to come together and articulate their goals. In Transeuropa, Europe is not only a means to an end, but an end in itself – a cosmopolitan ideal. Rather than a direct comparison, the coupling of the two festivals illuminates that seemingly analogous European cultural endeavours can have a similar social function while having very different discursive pursuits. The methodological premise of the analysis is the significance of festivals in society – their communicative and community-building capacity (especially in regards to the nation), their function as space for sociability, and their contemporary post-traditional and cosmopolitan character. The example of ÉCU shows how the ‘European’ signifier is used to voice critique of mainstream film industry and create a space for independent filmmakers to gain visibility. Transeuropa, on the other hand, is a space for deliberation on important political and social issues of the day beyond strictly national perspectives. At the same time, it is a venue for local actors to articulate very particular concerns that are inherently political in nature.