Expanding the minds of European cinema-goers

As EU expansion approaches, all eyes are on regulations that will influence daily life in the new member states - but cultural will also undergo some changes. A project led by Austrian European member of Parliament Mercedes Echerer called "EU XXL" brought together filmmakers from the old and new member states to make sure this new era in European cinema gets off to a good start.

Teenagers splash around in a pool as old people sit and discuss love, history and swimsuit fashion ... These are scenes from a playful documentary called "66 Seasons" directed by Slovak director Peter Kerekes, which documents life at a public swimming pool in Kosice, Slovakia.

"66 Seasons" opened the recent EU XXL film festival in Vienna, which is part of a larger project called Aktion EU XXL designed to promote solidarity among artists and filmmakers in the growing EU. The project is the brainchild of actress and Austrian Green EU parliamentarian Mercedes Echerer. She explains why she thinks her project is vital to art in Europe.

"We all know that some new members and Austria don't have the best relationship, so that was one idea - let's get closer, let's understand why are there the differences. And from the point of culture, telling stories is the best way to get into the heart. And if you have reached just a tiny little inch of the heart, you have a chance to get into the brain, too."

Before the festival started, 95 film professionals - 60 from candidate countries, the rest from the EU states - met in Vienna to discuss audiovisual policy and networking in the EU as well as the situation in each country.

In this sense, "66 Seasons" was an ideal opener. A kind of audiovisual collage, the film spans 66 years of history linked to a public swimming pool in Kosice, where people talk about anything from first love to the Russian occupation. But for director Kerekes his hometown swimming pool stands for more than just personal memory.

"Kosice, it was a Central European town, so the people were speaking Hungarian, German and Slovak. And after the Second World War it was not possible to speak Hungarian, because they wanted to have it like a clean Slovak town, and they controlled the people when they spoke Hungarian on the street. But you can't control anybody in the swimming pool because you don't have your identification card, anything. So it was like a piece of land where there is freedom."

Mercedes Echerer believes films like "66 Seasons" can work against stereotypes and prejudice, and even educate audiences about history.

"We do have these images from each other, and finding the truth, finding something that's behind the curtain - that is art. The only real chance is art, because art opens the dialogue to people. And I was listening to some comments during the film and, surprisingly, I heard very many times: 'Oh, I didn't know that. Did you know that?' And you would think that a free, democratic Austria should know European history... but I think it's the other way around as well."

In order to secure the exchange of information, Echerer thinks filmmakers should come to grips with EU policy before the accession process gets fully under way. She thinks this is the best way to lay the foundation for a strong, integrated and independent European cinema in the future.