Strengthening our interconnected world through culture
NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Thomas Wiersing (The Philippine Star) - February 27, 2020 - 12:00am

Turbulent headlines have hugged online news the past few days – from coronavirus, volcanic eruptions, fires, oil price increase to terrorism. 

While we cannot undermine all these realities, culture provides a flicker of hope in these trying times. Culture strives to make a difference; it makes people more aware of the deeper meaning of connection. Particularly, cultural diplomacy can help create a generation of critical and creative thinkers. Dubbed as the “soft power,” it  refers to a course of actions, including, but not limited to exchange of ideas, values, traditions, identity to either enhance or socio-cultural cooperation and promote national interests. This diplomacy is what binds us together; culture underpins races, creed and beliefs.   

This reminded me of what Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, used to say: ‘If I were to do it again from scratch, I would start with culture’.

A common market certainly helps to make people from different countries engage with each other. But real ties are not built by money but by a passion that people have in common. This applies as much to the relations between the EU Member States as it does to relations between the EU and other countries such as the Philippines.

That is why when Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) Chairperson Liza Diño invited me and my South Korean wife to attend the Film Ambassadors’ Night (FAN) two weekends ago, we readily accepted the invite. Why not? Film is an important facet of cultural diplomacy especially in a country where entertainment industry is subsumed by its citizens.

Our participation to the FDCP event was one exciting occasion sans the usual diplomatic receptions. It was an experience to witness the recognition of 63 Filipino honourees, the best of filmmakers, artists and writers. I was impressed to see how many of them have been cited in prestigious film festivals like Cannes, Venice and Berlin in Europe and elsewhere.

Film provides an enormous flavour in our daily lives. It has this evocative capacity to present life in surrealistic or in a realistic manner. It offers all of us a sort of catharsis, a relief, a respite but it goes beyond all these as it is also an effective educational tool.

These are the reasons why the Delegation has launched in January, the “EuroPelikula” which now forms part of the activities at the Cultural Center of the Philippines until the end of this year. Thanks to the collaboration with CCP President Nick Lizaso, one European film is featured every month – a perfect opportunity for cinephiles to watch non-commercially viable and multi-awarded or co-produced EU films for free.

The EU also mounts Cine Europa, the annual EU film festival that started in 1998 to mark the 100th year of the Philippine independence. This year is unique as screenings of 17 European films start in May to celebrate Europe Month and “Viva Europa” cultural festival. Admission to the festival has always been free and I am exceptionally enthusiastic about this edition as Cine Europa returns to Davao after the lifting of martial law.

The impact of film is not just limited in terms of culture. The cultural and creative industries in Europe employ about seven million people representing 2.5 million companies, making up 4.2% of the EU’s GDP. The Philippines employs about six million with the creative industry comprising 7.34% of the GDP. These figures foretell a positive outlook for the creative industries. No wonder Filipinos have developed a penchant for watching films. 

A very touching, entertaining and ‘educative’ movie I watched was “Rainbow Sunset,” a story of the coming out of an 84-year-old family man and how he, his lover and family coped with a terminal illness. Coincidentally, this film was cited by the FDCP during the Film Ambassadors’ Night. I am no film expert but I must say that it was a very powerful and stirring narrative of society’s perceptions and approach on issues like LGBT and values such as love, endurance and strength. And I admired the performance of Eddie Garcia, Tony Mabesa and Gloria Romero. A beautiful yet simple story, production design was simple but the effect was compelling.  It touched my very core as a moviegoer. Such is the effect of the language of film.

While peace is the DNA of the European Union, culture is at the heart of our foreign policy. It helps promote dialogue and mutual understanding. Here is more to our future cultural collaborations not just in film but in other endeavours!

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(Mr Thomas Wiersing is Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. of the EU Delegation to the Philippines)

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