In March, at the time the European Union was busy celebrating its 50th anniversary, a documentary had its world première in the European Parliament in Brussels. “Au Coeur de l’Europe” by Sergio Ghizzardi covers the main events in EU politics in 2005, from the rejection of the proposed European Constitution in France to arguments between the UK and the other member states over a new budget. Subtitled “the most difficult job in the world” it focuses on the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the various pressures he had to deal with in 2005 to move the European project forward.

You might think that members of the European Parliament (MEPs) would have seen enough of Barroso in their daily business, but the event was popular and the audience attentive. Even when the subjects are as close to home as this, documentary screenings in the Parliament are well-attended and considered by their organisers an effective way of attracting attention to a particular issue. A documentary can take the viewers where they otherwise might not go and, through images, makes a more direct connection than a report or a speech.

What Gets Shown?

Documentaries are screened quite often in the Parliament, mainly in Brussels but also in Strasbourg. However, the types of film and the settings in which they are shown vary considerably. Sometimes the documentaries are of high cinematic quality, such as Thierry Michel’s “Congo River”, but they may also be campaign films from environmental or social grassroots organisations.

There is little restriction to what can be shown in the Parliament. If an MEP wants to show a film – or can be persuaded to host the screening of one – there is usually no problem getting it seen. The line would be drawn for anything promoting religious or racial hatred, but in general such films are not put forward for screenings.

The sort of audience that a documentary gets in the Parliament varies dramatically. Sometimes the screenings are low-key, almost private affairs that appear on the weekly agenda but are not promoted more broadly. For instance, in June Green MEPs gathered to watch “Uno di No”i, a documentary by Dietmar Höss about Alexander Langer, founder of the Italian Green Party.

At other times the screenings are an event, as was the case for “Au Coeur de l’Europe”. Made independently for television and broadcast subsequently on Arte, the Parliament was the perfect place for the premiere given the subject matter. The host for the screening was Martin Schulz, leader of the Parliament’s socialist group and one of the participants in the film. Another recent ‘event’ screening was James Tusty’s documentary “Singing Revolution”, screened as part of a celebration of Estonian independence.

Sparking Debate

When it comes to sparking debate in the Parliament, a documentary is likely to have more impact if it is integrated into the MEPs’ work. Aside from the gatherings of the whole assembly, the official business of the Parliament takes place in committees dedicated to particular issues. These will occasionally view documentary material as part of their sessions, but time is necessarily limited and only short films or excerpts can be presented.

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