On Friday James Mullighan, the director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, released a statement designed to set the record straight on what is and is not happening at this year’s festival.
It came after the surprise announcement this week that the EIFF and its creative advisors Mark Cousins, Lynda Myles and Tilda Swinton would be parting company. This led to speculation about what this meant for the sweeping changes that were laid out in mid-February.
The Statement Condensed
Mullighan firstly made it clear that Cousins, Myles, and Swinton were only ever supposed to be ‘advisors’. They were asked to write a creative blueprint, which they entitled “All That Heaven Allows”. Now that they have finished that, their involvement with the festival has also finished.
He then went on to say the full programme would be launched in mid-May, with some “exciting snippets” being unveiled in advance of the launch.
Finally, he officially announced the ‘guest curators’ would make up a new strand of the festival. He reiterated not all of the curators would necessarily be there to present their contributions.
Where it Leaves Us
For me the take home message is that the ‘guest curators’ will be merely a strand of the festival and not necessarily take anything away from the normal screening of new films – the main reason people have attended EIFF in the past.
It is clear that it is this strand of the festival Mullighan hopes will form its new creative identity. Certainly it will be more distinctive than EIFF 2010’s ambition to be a “Festival of Discovery”; since what is any film festival but a chance to discover new films and new talent?
What is also clear is that the guest curators strand, along with the abandonment of the awards and red carpets, seem to have been both the beginning and end of the changes to the festival.
The Unanswered Questions
Despite Mullighan’s statement, I do still have some questions: What was the big announcement that would ‘probably’ come on 1st March? New guest curators? Further radical changes for the fest? Why was it never announced? Also, once Cousins, Myles, and Swinton had finished their creative blueprint, why didn’t they announce there and then that their involvement was over?
However, it seems unnecessary to worry about these types of issues, which are only to do with the communication of the festival’s changes. It seems much more important to worry about the content of the new-look festival than the way we are being told about these changes.
Soon we will find out just how radical the guest curators’ ideas for EIFF are. We will also find out how willing audience members are to accept this new strand of the festival. I remain sceptically curious about it.
For me the most important thing about a film festival is the films. So when the programme comes out, it will be the 300+ titles I shall be scanning through first. The guest curators’ ideas may prove to be a welcome distraction, but I still don’t see them being any more than that.