Maria Castillo Fernandez might have taken up leadership at the Office of the European Union to Hong Kong and Macau in 2008, but she says she has heard of the challenges her predecessor faced in organising an annual European Film Festival, which ground to a halt after the 2007 edition.
'There were less means, smaller budgets and fewer possibilities, so what was done before was mainly in co-operation with universities which showed the films at their own venues,' says Fernandez of the original incarnation of the festival, in which all screenings were held at lecture halls in tertiary institutes.
Reviving the festival idea in 2009, Fernandez and her colleagues turned to the expertise of Broadway Cinematheque, which had a good track record of programming alternative film festivals and showcases. Better and more recent films were selected, Fernandez says, and 'most of them have been nominated for international awards'. Among last year's batch was Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, winner of the Palme d'Or in 2009, and Lars von Trier's Antichrist, which was also in the running for the same prize that year.
Fernandez says the attendance rate for last year's festival stood at 93 per cent. The collaboration with the Cinematheque continues and Fernandez says the 14 films featured in this year's festival offer '14 windows of Europe'. They allow a glimpse of family attitudes, relationships, politics, history and life among European societies. There is no particular theme to the festival, she says - what the committee looks for are films that 'show something typical or something special about the different countries'.
Opening the festival on Thursday is British filmmaker Mike Leigh's Another Year, a competition entry at last year's Cannes Film Festival. Starring veterans Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville, the film looks at the blissful everyday life of an elderly couple and the friends and family who converge on their patch armed with various forms of unhappiness.
And then there's the Austrian entry Mahler on the Couch. Made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of the composer, the film sees Gustav Mahler visiting psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud after discovering his wife's affair with the pioneering architect Walter Gropius.
The festival also features family dramas such as A Family (Denmark), Last Cowboy Standing (Finland) and The Last Days of Emma Blank (the Netherlands) - a string of films which Fernandez says will show 'how family structures are presented in Europe, which is quite different from the Asian and Hong Kong way'. Meanwhile, politics takes the front seat in films such as Call Girl (Portugal) and Little Greek Godfather (Greece).
One of the reasons for the films' diversity, explains Fernandez, is to meet the goals of the European Film Festival of providing Hong Kong people with a possibility to know more about Europe and its different cultures as well as to increase awareness of European films in Hong Kong.
'There is Le French May and there are other countries which also do their own national film festivals here, but this idea is to get together these countries and try to project an image of Europe to the Hong Kong audience,' says Fernandez.
'Hong Kong's cinemas are very much dominated by Hollywood films, like many countries. So we try to raise the awareness of European films [through the festival] and of European culture through the films.
'[Through these films], you have all this different knowledge about our European diversity which is very important. I hope to get that across to the Hong Kong audience,' says Fernandez.
'It was a new formula - a new approach to add more professionalism - which worked well last year. And we hope this year will also be as successful.'
The European Film Festival runs from Thursday to March 9 at Broadway Cinematheque and the Palace IFC. Details at bc.cinema.com.hk/adhoc/euff2011/