News about a Croatian amateur film director Mr Mario Šulina receiving the Golden Lion award for his film “Adam” stirred controversy in Croatia. In December 2020 commercial TV channel RTL published on its webpage RTL.hr an article with the following title: ”’Golden Lion’ went to Đakovo this year: Director Šulina in the interview for RTL.hr reveals how ‘Adam’ won over the movie field in Venice, but not in Croatia“. Consequently, the news was published in many of the mainstream news outlets, almost always with comments and frowning upon domestic criteria which failed to recognize the value of the film. We have found this claim to be false.
To get the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival is indeed admirable achievement. The article on RTL website further states: “Although he received an enviable award on the Film Festival in Venice and is among favourites on movie festivals in Barcelona and Austria, it looks like he hasn’t received such success at home“. The director is quoted in the article saying: ”When 14 members of a jury with respectable bibliographies decided to give you in Venice the Golden Lion for directing a feature-length movie, then you know you did a great job.“
The film director Šulina got the most of media publicity after the mayor of his small town Đakovo organized a reception in his honour. The news and photo with title “Venetian Golden Lion in the little town hall” spread in the media and numerous Croatian media news outlets reported about the success of the unknown filmmaker. Also, Mr. Šulina was interviewed about his work and his success. Some media problematized the “fact” that the film which tells the story of a Croatian War Veteran didn’t get any financial support from Croatian film funds and had never been invited to any of the Croatian Film festivals.
In the first wave of articles published across Croatian media news outlets (mostly websites), no one checked if there was something misleading in the claim that a Croatian was awarded with the Golden Lion. Croatian web portals copy-pasted the news with no intention to dig deeper.
Indeed, had they dedicated only one minute of research on Google, they would have easily found out that the official winner of the Venice International Film Festival Golden Lion for the 2020 was Nomadland by Chloe Zao, and that there was something “suspicious” in that news. On the other hand, it is also true that no news media claimed that it was “the famous” Mostra Internazionale Venice International Film Festival. But at the same time no media mentioned that there exists another festival with the similar name and the same award, and they failed to specify which award at which festival Mr Šulina had actually received. Nova TV is a Croatian television station which was declared as the most watched television station in Croatia for multiple years in a row. Mr Šulina posted an insert of this news on his Facebook profile in which Nova TV’s main evening news programme ‘Dnevnik’ reports on his award.
Some days later, when news was already buried, Croatian film director Igor Mirković posted on his Facebook profile the outcome of his research what kind of “lion” it was, with the outcome turning out quite bizarre. There is a small company under the name Venice Film Awards which awards prizes to the independent and less known filmmakers. Every month they give out dozens of awards. Due to the limited budget, every laureate who wants to have a statue as a proof for winning the award, pays 250 euros for it.
So, the question is whether journalists who did not clarify that this was not the famous Golden Lion award, are simply superficial or they mislead the audience on purpose. How is it possible not to question the information when The Venice International Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the world and one of the most prestigious?. The other award with the same name – the Golden Lion – is awarded not annually but monthly on a different festival called the Venice Film Awards. At this festival there are about 800 award winners every year.
Although RTL and other Croatian media did not directly say that Mr Šulina received the Golden Lion from The Venice International Film Festival, the publications lacked basic context about the actual award and created space for false assumptions that could be made by the audience.
Another factor which contributed to this false presentation is a photograph in which the awarded film maker poses with the award. The award he received is quite similar to the award given by the Venice International Film Festival. While there are obvious differences in the statue, an average reader would hardly be aware of this, and therefore again may be led to a wrongful conclusion.
The first Croatian online news outlet that ‘cleared the air’ was Index.hr, that published an article with the following headline: “Croatian film about veteran got the Golden Lion in Venice? Yes, the one that costs € 250”.
Index inserted a Facebook post of Croatian journalist and film director Mr Igor Mirković in which he publicly calls out Mr Šulina and Croatian media for the misinformation of the wider audience. Mr Šulina responded in a status on his Facebook account and said: ”On no occasion and in no medium did I mention the Golden Lion Award of the world-renowned Venice Film Festival. I have transparently highlighted participation and awards at the Venetian as well as at a number of other IMDBs qualifying festivals both on my own Facebook profile and on the film’s Facebook page. These are monthly independent film festivals including the controversial Venice film award one of the few at which the film has been awarded. The purchase of the statue, which also caused a controversy, is a matter of choice, but even without it, the fact is that the film was rated the best in the monthly selection and at the aforementioned independent film festival.“
Interesting enough, in the meantime, from the day we started our factcheck, the web page the Venice Film Awards has become inactive.
Even though RTL and other Croatian media reported that Mr Šulina received a Golden Lion award, which is in a way indeed true, the context in which this information was presented is largely misleading. Therefore, this claim is assessed as false. Inadequate research and superficial reporting resulted in additional fame for the film maker, but no fame for Croatian journalism.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE ©: Nina Čepo & Iva Dolenc, University of Zagreb, Croatia
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