Edinburgh International Film Festival Loses Its Creativity

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Today’s announcement that Mark Cousins, Tilda Swinton and Lynda Myles will all be ending their involvement as creative directors of Edinburgh Film Festival will come as a shock to many. However, to fully understand today’s departures perhaps it’s worth reviewing what’s happened since last year’s festival.

The Story So Far

August 2010 – Hannah McGill, EIFF’s Creative Director of four years, announces her departure. EIFF starts looking for a direct replacement.

December 2010After finding no one suitable candidate, Mark Cousins, Tilda Swinton and Lynda Myles are put in charge of the ‘artistic and creative vision’ for the festival. They announce a radical shake-up of the festival which will include lots of one-off events and guest curators entitled “All That Heaven Allows”. James Mullighan is brought on as the festival’s ‘producer’ to try and bring Cousins, Swinton and Myles creative vision to full fruition.

February 2011 – Mullighan confirms red carpets and award ceremonies are out, and guest curators are in. These will include Gus Van Sant and Isabella Rossellini. More guest curators are set to be announced at the beginning of March.

April 2011 – No such announcement emerges in March. Today Miles, Cousins, and Swinton announced their involvement with the festival has ended. Mullighan now has complete responsibility for all aspects of the 65th EIFF.

Stop-Gap Measure?

To many, it would seem from all this Cousins, Swinton and Myles were only ever brought in as a stop-gap measure until a more permanent replacement was found. EIFF’s festival director, James Mullighan, suggested as much today, stating:

It was never the intention that Lynda, Tilda and Mark would be involved right up to the festival in June

Nevertheless, his version of events seems at odds with the press release from EIFF in February which states:

Now that [the guest curators] have agreed to participate, they are in dialogue with Mark and Lynda about what it is they might bring. Films, music, art, writing, mood: nothing is off the table at this point.

This implies it was the creative trio who were responsible for persuading the guest curators to get onboard with their vision for the 65th EIFF. The departure of these three raises questions as to whether the guest curators will also continue to be involved in the festival or be dropped altogether. The fact we still do not know who the additional curators will be adds further weight to this suggestion.

Guest Curators To Be Dropped?

EIFF had real difficult finding a replacement for Hannah McGill. They could have appointed either Lynda Myles or Mark Cousins as creative director for one year only. Both have done it before, and both have the experience. Both clearly had lots of creative ideas as to what the new-look festival should look like.

Instead they have sent a very mixed message to Myles, Cousins and Swinton in not giving them overall control of the festival, but still allowing them to come up with the vision “All That Heaven Allows”.

Their departure represents the fact “All That Heaven Allows” may bear little resemblance to the 65th EIFF.

Whatever the festival does look like, the past eight months since MacGill’s departure have been very troubling ones indeed for the festival. At this stage, one gets the impression the organisers are just hoping they can survive the 65th EIFF intact.

Perhaps the most troubling thing for fans of the festival is the lack of communication from those in charge. With only ten weeks to go, we know very little for certain about this year’s festival. James Mullighan’s challenge will be to create a clear and cohesive vision for the 65th EIFF amidst the turmoil of the past eight months.

EDIT: The original version of the article incorrectly stated James Mullighan’s involvement with the festival started after Myles, Cousins, and Swinton were given their roles. This was not the case. Mullighan was appointed festival producer at the same time as the creative trio were officially given their roles. In January, the title of Mullighan’s role changed to director, implying he would be taken on more responsibility than previously intended. I apologise for any confusion the original version of the timeline caused.

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