Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010

Posted by in June's Magazine

Pic: The Illusionist

Imagine you’re a diehard football fan who lives in Johannesburg. You must feel the Gods were smiling on you when South Africa was awarded the 2010 world cup. Well, imagine that same stroke of luck being repeated annually. For Edinburgh movie fans that’s pretty close to the truth. The Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) begins on June 16th this year and local cineastes should be salivating like a fat man in Greggs. But how aware are we of exactly how substantial a feast of film is laid out for us each year? The cultural opportunities the festival offers those willing to take a short trek up Leith Walk should never be underestimated, and I’ll explain, in my opinion, why.



Cinemas are in the realm of fantasy, that winning combination of celluloid, light and sound transports the audience from their normal existence for a short moment in time. This is as it should be; escapism is one of the true purposes of film. Why else would Hollywood christen itself ‘The Dream Factory’? But how often do we wish we could break through the 5th wall and enter the event itself, become part of the imagined reality projected up on the screen? I’m not claiming that Edinburgh’s film festival can achieve this of course. No, that takes either hard drugs or psychosis. So, perhaps we can’t break through this 5th wall, but for two weeks in June we’re invited to peek behind it.

The EIFF is the oldest and most important festival of film in the UK. Its patrons include Oscar winners Sean Connery and Tilda Swinton, while previous victorious directors have included Shane Meadows, Derek Jarman and Michael Winterbottom. But don’t be blinded by their starlight, because the EIFF is designed primarily for the general public to view outstanding films. It’s not about fat handshakes and even fatter cigars. It’s not about red carpet acting as restrictive red tape to the average film fan. What it is about is fans and viewers watching and enjoying films. Please don’t let these words paint the festival as an unexceptional event, quite the opposite. It’s not inclusive as necessity; it’s inclusive as a priority.

Cock your ear towards the continent and you’ll hear of the Golden Lion, Silver Bear and, of course, the Palm D’or. Prestigious awards which adorn the posters and DVD cases of films rewarding enough to win them. It always irked me that Edinburgh’s awards are rarely proudly and prominently displayed in this way. However this is in fact a blessing. The moral compass of the EIFF points not towards corporate deals in the movie marketplace or self-congratulatory backslapping, but towards the audience. However, to state that its responsibility is solely concerned with the viewer is to underestimate the event. Deputy Artistic Director Diane Henderson was kind enough to chat to The Leither in what is a truly hectic time for all the festival organisers. An authentic and enthusiastic film fan, Diane confirmed my opinions that the event is for all those who want to enjoy film but stressed EIFF’s ambition to also bring through local filmmaking talent and introduce them to the industry. David Mackenzie of Young Adam and Hallam Foe fame was cited as a past success. 2010 will witness a step forward in the festival’s tutelage of Scottish filmmakers with the advent of ‘Features Scotland’, which provides a global platform for home grown talent and showcases our budding producers to the international filmmaking establishment. If this project bears fruit then these potential talents may return to premiere their works in future years.

To attend a film premiere is a privilege. You are the first real audience to see a movie. Your groans or laughter are an initial indicator to the filmmaker of what they’ve achieved, whether their labour of love was indeed worth it. As in ancient Greek theatre the spectators become the influencers, their reactions a verbal gauge of approval. In a more tangible display of the EIFF’s true appreciation of the people in the seats it has an audience award where films are judged by the democratic practice of voting cards. For a moment the viewer becomes a small part of the process.
In 2007 the great Chinese director Lou Ye took his controversial film Summer Palace on the festival circuit. Graphic sex scenes and an on-screen treatment of the Tiananmen Square massacre was too heady a mix for the Chinese government who warned that it could not be shown, yet he refused to relent. The result was a five-year ban on filmmaking that is still in force today (although it has been broken). This was major news in the spheres of both international arts and politics. The fact that Cannes was the stage of the main ultimatum and Edinburgh followed shortly after meant that global news was occurring in front of our eyes and we had the option to participate. Lou attended the Edinburgh screenings and bravely but nervously answered questions concerning his fate after this apparent professional suicide, a rare insight into a great artist and all for the price of a cinema ticket. This is the true strength of the EIFF, just queue at the box office and you can be part of film history.

In the summer of 2008 you had the chance to see world class cinematographer Christopher Doyle drunkenly explain his unexplainable movie Warsaw Dark. He made a magnificent double act with his protégé, the beautiful and talented Rain Li, she trying valiantly to educate the film school students in attendance, the straight woman to his mischievous fool. That same year legendary actor John Hurt stood outside Fountain Park waiting to be interviewed while excited kids shoved past him to get to Megabowl, a surreal sight indeed. These are just my personal anecdotes. Diane laughed as she reminisced over the year Charlize Theron wandered around the Cameo cinema inducing a mass case of drop jaw and the time Malcolm MacDowell caused fan frenzy at the Tattoo. You can go along and create your own memories this year. These opportunities to witness, participate in and discuss cinema are few and far between the world over, yet we have them on our doorstep each June. Take advantage.

2010 promises to be a vintage year for the EIFF, one that offers something for everyone. Highbrow art fiends and the everyday followers of the flicks are equally catered for. Toy Story 3 has its UK premiere at an Edinburgh Gala event this year in 3D no less, an unpretentious choice to delight all ages. Remaining in the ambit of animation and true to the festival’s Caledonian roots, the opening film this year is The Illusionist. This delightful fairytale interpretation of Scotland from Frenchman Sylvain Chomet is described by Variety as ‘A love letter to Edinburgh’. In addition to these headliners the 2010 programme contains a weird and wonderful mix of films, special events and appearances.

Faithful to the Festival’s history, a cocktail of genres is being served up for the viewers, an audience which will hopefully contain many of the Leither readership. The credit crunch will not deter the EIFF, it’s not a false sparkler full of fugazi charms, it’s an authentic gem of an event, the idealistic Che Guevara of Film Festivals. Go along and years from now you might just be able to say that you attended the premiere of an important and influential film, met one of the world’s great directors, or just pushed past a living legend to go ten pin bowling

Five Hidden Gems
Be first in the know! Big films are easy to spot but here are some names for the future
1. Outcast – this promises to be fun, if peculiar and disturbing is your thing. Set in Edinburgh with James Nesbitt and beautiful and talented newcomer (and former Leith girl) Hanna Stanbridge, this is a dark and dangerous Celtic horror. (19th & 23rd June)
2. Street Days – everyone loves a good Georgian movie don’t they? No? Well all that could change. The ex Soviet states are such an interesting backdrop for film and this Tbilisi-set crime drama should prove that point. (25th & 26th June)
3. Pulp – the actors may be well known but this overlooked classic is not. Playing as part of the retrospective season and starring Michael Caine, this is billed as ‘Get Carter filmed as a dark comedy in fascist Italy. With really cool sunglasses’. (21st June)
4. Fog (Wu) – Hong Kong is a truly cinematic city and Kit Hui promises to pay tribute to it in this brooding elegant film. An amnesiac pieces together his past present and future. (17th & 20th June)
5. Northless – Mexico has a rich recent film history and this could by the next name on people’s lips. An eccentric tale of a man’s increasingly bizarre attempts to cross the US border. (25th & 26th June).

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