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A Pregnant Pause Before the Reborn Edinburgh Film Festival

When it comes to Edinburgh, I’m no festival virgin. However, this is the first festival in the 15 years I’ve been attending either as staff, filmmaker or delegate, when I will be seven-and-a-half months pregnant. I will be waddling, Marge Gunderson style, from cinema to cinema, hopefully securing seats on the end of the row (leaving me with the perfect excuse to pop out early). I will NOT be quaffing vats of dry white wine, or even whiskey (sob) but that means I will hopefully remember the names of everyone I meet and won’t be dozing off during the more poetic films. I hope that if I groan at the wrong moment in a film, several people around me might jump up and call an ambulance, or at the very least offer to buy me an ice cream. I’ll keep you posted.

There’s an abundance of good will towards the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year. Four years ago, it moved from its spot in festival-heavy August — sharing the spotlight with Edinburgh’s International, Fringe, Book, Jazz and Television festivals — to a new June position. Many of us who have been going to Edinburgh for years and loved the collision of art forms missed the buzz. And, obviously, programming all the high-profile international titles from Cannes was no longer possible. Then last year due to funding cuts and a questionable attempt to redesign the event, the festival was, I think we can all agree, a bit of a disaster. For a start, there was no artistic director, and a producer was brought in only a few months before the festival to put together an event based on a blueprint which seemed to be undeliverable. The programme was light on films, the main festival hub moved to an uninspiring student venue a long way from the cinemas, and celebrity guest programmers who were heavily billed in the run-up to the event never materialized. Several people at yesterday’s press launch said they were pretending it had never happened. However, the upside of hitting the bottom is that it became clear that the world’s longest continuously running film festival held a special place in people’s hearts and everyone wanted to see it work again.

Enter Chris Fujiwara. He had never been to Edinburgh or run a film festival, but the new artistic director’s vast film knowledge and passion for cinema of all kinds was obvious from a quick Google of his name. The tasters we have had in the last few months have been intriguing: opening with Friedkin’s Killer Joe, closing with Pixar’s Brave and a retrospective of little known Japanese director Shinji Somai. So far so…catholic. We were all waiting with our breath held for yesterday’s programme launch: would Sundance films make a big showing again? Would Fujiwara announce new strands, a theme, a mission?

Nope. What he did instead was show how important he thinks Cinema is by his programming choices. Cinema from all over the world, made by all kinds of people and telling all sorts of stories – and that’s pretty much it, folks. It’s a programme that doesn’t put films into boxes that say “First Time Film” or “Documentary” but “New Perspectives” instead. We’re being invited to watch films without an imposed hierarchy and any strands that have been named feel more to do with guiding the audience towards geographic regions than anything else. There’s respect for the Edinburgh audience built-in to this festival, which is wonderful to see, as we’ve been watching new and challenging films here since 1947.

With the programme public for only 24 hours at this point, (I haven’t scoured it completely) I’m very excited about the Philippine New Wave strand – how can anyone resist a film called Mondomanila: or, How I Fixed My Hair after a Rather Long Journey? – and the mini-retrospective of Gregory La Cava is high on my hit list. The Michael Powell award for Best New British Feature Film returns (hurray!) after it was scrapped last year, and eligible, for the first time, are documentary films. Peter Strickland presents his follow-up to Katalin Varga in this section, and James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer will get its UK premiere here. International cinema maestros Victor Kossakovsky and Wang Bing will be coming to talk about their work and there will be events and screenings in art galleries across Edinburgh. Fabulous stuff.

Between June 20 and July 1, I will be your eyes and your ears on the festival. Not your stomach, though — I can’t handle any more stomach than I’ve got right now.

Hope Dickson Leach completed her MFA in filmmaking at Columbia University where she made three short films that played at festivals worldwide. While in New York she was assistant to Todd Solondz on his film Palimdromes. Hope’s award-winning thesis film, The Dawn Chorus, was selected for Sundance, Edinburgh, London and many other festivals. Screen International made her a Star of Tomorrow and Filmmaker magazine named her one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film. Since her return to the UK, she has made further acclaimed short works for Channel 4, Film London, the UK Film Council and the National Theatre of Scotland. She is currently developing her debut feature English Rose, following a grant from the UKFC’s development fund, and is also attached to direct When I Could Fly for Quark Films.

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