Cinema on a Grand Scale
Established over 60 years ago, the Edinburgh International Film Festival searches for the world’s best emerging filmmakers, while also providing a rich platform for discussion.
International cinema, from independent shorts and feature-length blockbusters to thought-provoking documentaries and experimental artists’ film, is flourishing. With annual festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, Venice, Tokyo and Aesthetica’s own short film festival creating more and more ambitious programming, the opportunities for film lovers to experience new, exciting and independent cinema are ever-increasing.
Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), as the oldest continually running festival in the world (initiated alongside the world famous Edinburgh International Festival in 1947), has a long-established reputation for offering an opportunity for up and coming filmmakers, and showcasing those films that are a little off-radar for the more mainstream festivals. Chris Fujiwara, its Artistic Director since 2011, says: “During Edinburgh’s history it has become very well known for its advocacy of documentary films, independent films, films that really deserve a chance to break through to an audience but don’t necessarily get to because they’re not backed by major funding. We show big films and films of all types, and Edinburgh has a special reputation for being committed to supporting emerging and independent filmmakers.” He also identifies the search for something new and a little different from the plethora of offerings at other festivals as a factor that sets Edinburgh apart: “We make an effort with programming to find films that are under the radar of other festivals, off the beaten track, and a bit less obvious for a film festival to show.”
As with many festivals, Edinburgh relies on a combination of programmers, reviewers, submissions and industry connections to curate its programme of events each year. “We rely a lot on submissions” with a submissions period of several months each year during which “any filmmaker, anywhere in the world can submit their feature or short film.” All submissions are viewed by a team of reviewers whose recommendations are then passed on to the programme team for the final decision. In addition to submissions, all of the EIFF organisers are constantly on the look-out for new talent, particularly at other festivals: “We go to Sundance, Rotterdam, Berlin (those are three of the main ones for us given our place in the calendar), and we try to pick films that we feel will appeal to our audiences and that really represent something about contemporary cinema and the state of international filmmaking; films that excite us and that we feel really need to be seen by someone who wants to know what’s happening in film now.” The final element in the trinity is EIFF’s programmers’ own connections throughout the film industry – “among filmmakers and film companies from whom we expect good things from” – so that programmers identify their key figures for festivals, and nurture and support their output over a number of years. As part of Edinburgh’s position as an international festival, Fujiwara emphasises that “it’s vital that we keep in touch with filmmakers and film movements all over the world,” noting emerging themes of the sea and intergenerational relationships over the past few years, “not just for filmmakers but for all of us. A major theme in most people’s lives these days is how to connect with our past and engage with our heritage.”
At time of going to press many aspects of the 2013 programme were unconfirmed, but audiences can expect retrospectives on French director Jean Grémilion (1901-1959) and Richard Fleischer (1916-2006), both of whom, in Fujiwara’s opinion, are significantly underrepresented to international audiences. While Fujiwara observes a “renewal of interest” in Grémilion’s work (with retrospectives at Bologna and Vienna), he argues: “This is a director who has never really got his due, even among people who are very hardcore fanatics about French classical cinema. He has been relegated to a footnote in film history [but], justly, the reactions from audiences who were discovering his work through these festivals made us realise it was time to bring his work to the UK.” And while Fleischer, a “favourite” of Fujiwara’s, enjoyed commercial success, he was not recognised as “a real film artist or a really brilliant director with a fabulous sense of narrative, psychology and visual flair.”
EIFF’s Family Gala film, Monsters University, and closing film, Not Another Happy Ending, represent a lighthearted, positive and populist programming for 2013. Not Another Happy Ending, directed by John McKay and starring Karen Gillan and Stanley Weber, represents a Scotland far removed from the somewhat downtrodden place so often associated with Scottish filmmaking and literature. Focusing on the burgeoning affection between a publisher and his best-selling writer, it’s a classic romantic comedy that shows Glasgow as a young, exciting city, full of creatives, love affairs and serendipitous happenings. While Fujiwara recognises Scotland’s gritty reputation through its most famous cinematic offerings, he points out that Not Another Happy Ending’s selection was not an attempt to rectify this imbalance: “Our festival doesn’t necessarily seek to give any particular representation of Scotland; we simply want to show the best films we can find. But certainly with Not Another Happy Ending it’s clear that the filmmaker is trying to present Scotland in a new way – to avoid the clichés and to expose the vibrancy of, in this case, Glasgow and to show there’s a great deal of culture and talent. The film illustrates how exciting it is to work in these fields – to be a writer, to be a publisher – and how sexy it is.
Another guaranteed crowd-pleaser, Monsters University, the prequel to 2001’s Monsters Inc, represents the continuation of a longstanding collaboration between Edinburgh and Disney Pixar, which has previously seen WALL-E, Toy Story 3, Ratatouille and Brave receive their UK premieres at the festival. The film forms part of Edinburgh’s education programme for younger viewers, aspiring filmmakers and film critics which also includes Media Days, the Edinburgh Schools Film Competition, Young Talents and the Student Critics Award Jury.
Such events highlight attempts by EIFF to create a more immersive programme that involves the public and industry events as much as the high-profile filmmakers themselves: “There is a public programme, but we also have an industry programme – there’s a lot going on with filmmakers who come to Edinburgh in non-public directions.” This year also sees the reintroduction of the Audience Award after a two year hiatus, and while its earlier elimination was part of “a blanket decision to do without the awards that year,” since becoming Artistic Director Fujiwara has sought to rehabilitate the awards to the festival, but required “time to rethink” the Audience Award. “The Audience Award is often tagged on to festivals, and I didn’t feel like it was fully embraced by the festival. I wanted a little time to figure out for myself what part the Audience Award should play. I’m really happy that we were able to do that this year.” A major element of this rethinking provides an opportunity for further exploration for audiences across the festival’s programming: “The Audience Award looks at a group of films across the various strands of the festival; it will include some of the more mainstream as well as some of the lesser-known films, so the hope is that our audiences will want to explore the various aspects of the festival and not just stay with one strand. The other thing was to give the audience a voice, to allow them to speak with one another and to speak to us, not just by ticking off a number next to the name of the film that they like, but we want to give them an ability to comment, which is an important element of what a festival can do to engage the audiences. It makes them active rather than passive, and, in a way, into critics.”
In this manner, Fujiwara is encouraging a blurring of boundaries between audience, filmmakers and critics, and this year EIFF will be using social media in a number of ways to engage with its audience directly. “What I would like our audiences to take away from our festival this year is that it’s just as exciting to watch films as it is to make them. In a sense the audience does make the film – in the obvious way that the film doesn’t exist without somebody to watch it, but also in the very real sense that how we respond to it, how we see it, how we talk back to it, how we feel, think, hear, see – everything about our relationship to the film is the film. I hope our festival is a chance for the audience to discover the creativity of this experience; to realise how involved everybody is who watches the film. We want them to continue the dialogue, and one way to do that is to write, talk and tweet about it.”
Edinburgh International Film Festival runs at venues across the city from 19 to 30 June 2013. For tickets and information visit www.edfilmfest.org.uk.