Tuesday finally saw the launch of this year’s EIFF programme. It’s been a long, and somewhat rocky road to reach this point: one festival director leaving; a replacement not being found for four months; artistic advisors whose roles we were never quite sure of; and having to cope with a significant amount of funding being lost from the now defunct UK Film Council. With all that in mind, how does the 65th EIFF programme hold up?
All That Heaven Allows
The vision behind this year’s festival has been titled All That Heaven Allows. The fifth page of the programme sees EIFF director, James Mullighan, describe how Mark Cousins, Lynda Myles and Tilda Swinton came up with the vision and subsequent programming ideas. Among them, the guest curators that were announced in February.
Given all the publicity surrounding the guest curators it is surprising how little they feature in the programme for this year’s festival. I was also a little disappointed that the majority of contributions seem to be curators choosing an obscure film from the past to feature in the programme. Especially given the fact we were told in February: “Films, music, art, writing, mood: nothing is off the table at this point.”
Among the more creative of the guest curators’ offerings is Markus Miessen’s 24 Hours of Spatial Politics. His aim is to transform EIFF’s new venue Inspace into:
an informally discursive social space, a hub for antagonistic debate debate, non-consensual formats of moving image display, and – ultimately – a platform for alternative formats of civility.
Whatever that means.
Alongside these guest curations are some new initiatives designed to try and give the festival a more unique identity. Among these are Project: New Cinephilia, a day-long event designed to give critics, filmmakers, and audiences a platform to discuss how we write about cinema in the 21st century.
Conflict | Reportage is an exploration of how war is reported. Two of the events will see journalist Martin Bell recounting his experiences on the ground during the last few decades’ most infamous conflicts.
Put alongside the introduction of Teviot as a hub for audience members and filmmakers alike, the emphasis of all these new initiatives seems to be discussion and debate. This is to be welcomed. For most film fans, the only thing that gets close to the joy of watching great films is discussing them with like-minded fanatics.
However, my instincts are this will only appeal to those audience members who intend to spend all their free time at EIFF during its twelve day run. It is unlikely these new initiatives will bring the festival to a new, as yet untapped, audience.
One thing that does have the potential to do that is the Outside The Box strand, which aims to show films in unusual (read: non-cinema) locations. Among them will be the BBC Big Screen in Festival Square on Lothian Road, and St Andrew Square. Any screenings taking place here will be free to attend. The films have yet to be announced, but my hope is that it would feature either the best of Scottish film, or the most famous or successful films from EIFF’s 65 year history, as a way of encouraging people to check out some films from this year’s programme.
Of course these events and initiatives are not the main reason most people have attended EIFF in the past. So what of this year’s selection of films?
The first thing to note is that the number of features has almost exactly halved from last year’s 133 to this year’s 63. However, there is still plenty to get excited about.
The Guard will open this year’s festival. It’s written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, whose brother wrote In Bruges. The Guard likewise sees Brendan Gleeson take central stage alongside Don Cheadle. The plot is roughly speaking a buddy comedy, with similarly dark comedic undertones as In Bruges.
Among the British highlights is the thriller Perfect Sense, which sees David McKenzie and Ewan McGregor reunite for the first time since Young Adam. David Hare (writer of The Hours and The Reader) takes the director’s chair for the first time in twenty years to bring us Page Eight starring Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz and Michael Gambon.
International features include Troll Hunter, a Norwegian mock documentary in the style of The Blair Witch Project, which sees a student and his camera crew investigate Hans, a man they believe to be responsible for a series of unlawful bear shootings. However, it turns out he works for the top-secret Troll Security Service, but not the kind with the spiky hair and six inch standing.
Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his debut as a director in Jack Goes Boating, an adaptation of a play Hoffman played the lead in for a six week run Off Broadway. Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) bring us their own individual take on Mary Norton’s The Borrowers entitled The Borrower Arriety. 10cm tall, and living under the floorboards, can human Sho save these tiny people from extinction?
Finally, among the highlights of the documentaries is Project Nim, directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire), the true story of a scientist who tries to teach a chimpanzee language by having him brought up as one of the children of a human family. Hell and Back Again is a double Sundance winner. It sees its director Danfung Dennis equipped with a fully portable, wearable camera and sound rig which allows him to keep pace with a troop of US Marines as they launch an assault in southern Afghanistan.
As with every film festival, it’s up to audience members to take risks with the programme, seeing films they may know nothing about, but quite like the sound of. Although this year’s programme may have half the number of films, it still holds plenty of appeal, and plenty to keep you the more daring film lover entertained for two weeks.
On the subject of risk-taking, for me the major disappointment of the festival is seeing them abandon the saver deals that encourage festival goers to buy four or more tickets at a time. Instead of being able to buy 4+ tickets at £6 each like last year’s EIFF, festival-goers instead have to pay £9 for every single film they see.
A reduced programme and abandonment of red carpets I can deal with; creating a new pricing structure which discourages audience members from taking risks seems to go against everything a film festival should be about.
Finally it’s also worth pointing out there will be no awards, no Best of the Fest, and no closing night film to round off the festival. This unfortunately gives the impression that EIFF’s organisers want this year’s festival to be forgotten about before it’s even over.
As a resident of Edinburgh for the past eight years, I hope this isn’t the case. I hope this year’s festival does turn out to be a real success because Edinburgh has a proud history of supporting good, independent films whether EIFF is happening or not. Regardless, this site will be there every step of the way bringing you as many reviews, interviews and highlights as we possibly can. The 65th EIFF may be smaller, but we hope you’ll join us in discovering all the hidden gems the festival has to offer.