EIFF 2012: ONWARDS & UPWARDS
Scotland looks magnificent in EIFF closing night film Brave — lots of mountains, mystical spaces and torrential waterfalls. Strangely though, it doesn’t rain in the movie. Not once. This decision must have been overseen by the Scottish tourist board, for there are few places as rainy as Scotland. When it rained in Cannes this year, it was all the trades could talk about — but it’s just not news when it happens in Edinburgh. The last two weeks in Edinburgh we have all been dashing from cinema to cinema in raincoats, umbrellas up, wavy hair getting frizzier by the minute. The only thing to be said for the rain is that it’s great movie-watching weather.
And happily EIFF 2012 has been all about watching, and celebrating, movies. I think we can safely say the disaster of 2011 is well behind us thanks to Artistic Director Chris Fujiwara‘s intelligent, international, inclusive programming. The festival is about films again and the audiences seemed happy about it. There were a couple of cancellations (Victor Kossakovsky and Robert Carlyle could not make their scheduled In Person events) and a small industry storm in a teacup about Scott Graham‘s Scottish father-daughter drama Shell being pulled for not being in competition — but that’s all the negative press they could muster. The much-anticipated Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature went to Penny Woolcock‘s One Mile Away (above) — a documentary, in the first year that documentaries were eligible. The jury, headed by Jim Broadbent, pronounced the film “a singular achievement.” They also awarded a Best Performance Award jointly to Andrea Riseborough and Brid Brennan in James Marsh‘s Shadow Dancer. The international Jury gave their award to director Mao Mao for his feature Here, then. The jury acknowledged the festival and Fujiwara “for an outstanding, challenging and brave selection of films that included both fiction and documentaries and enabled us to watch the best of the world’s new cinema.” A triumph then?
In my last few days I managed to cram in a cross-section of viewing. Iranian film One. Two. One. was arthouse to the extreme — the whole film told in long-take medium shots of conversations. And yet it had a compelling narrative that moved along much more quickly than plenty of slow cinema made for ten times the budget and featuring endless landscapes. It made me want to open up the conversation about “what is cinematic?” again — have we become too bewitched by the wide shot?
Robert Carlyle was able to turn up for his European premiere of Marshall Lewy‘s Sundance-selected California Solo and was greeted with a huge fan base. One woman in the audience had come from Sweden to see the film, and him. It’s a lovely film, and with producer Mynette Louie involved, you can be assured you’ll be able to see it. She’s fast becoming an expert in distribution in this digital age, and what she doesn’t know about putting together a bespoke distribution deal isn’t worth knowing.
I finally made it to one of the Gregory La Cava retrospective screenings — Gabriel Over The White House. What a treat. On the day that Obamacare was upheld by the Supreme Court, I saw a liberal fantasy film about a president visited by the angel Gabriel who manages to get world leaders to agree to pay their national debts to each other so that people won’t starve anymore. Defense budget be blown, people are more important. Cinema as escapism.
The retrospectives have long been a pillar of Edinburgh’s programme, and it was great to see audiences embracing both La Cava’s and Shinji Somai‘s work. Officially we don’t know yet whether the ticket sales or audience figures compare well to previous years, but I confess I did feel that outside of the cinema things felt a little empty. The delegate centre, even when free drinks were on offer (every night!), was never quite buzzing. So as much as I congratulate EIFF for a good year, I can’t help but wonder — what next? Will the festival return to its position as premiere UK film festival, showcasing the most important international cinema as well as uncovering new talent and supporting British film? What does it need to do to make that happen?
The first step seems to have been taken — Fujiwara has impressed as Artistic Director and although his contract is up in September, it seems more than likely it will be renewed, not least as he has already told the press about his plans to focus on Brazil, India and Russia in next year’s programme. Red carpets are back and have been welcomed by audiences and the press. The new talent aspect of the festival is also strong. There were so many industry-led schemes bringing both emerging filmmakers and industry experts to the festival, and the return of the awards (after last year’s cancellation) will hopefully encourage British filmmakers to once again see Edinburgh as the place to premiere their films.
But the industry weren’t really out in force. They came for the schemes and took off again. There doesn’t seem to have been a sense of everyone HAVING to be there. Of course this may change as the festival emerges thanks to positive press, but I can’t help but point out that the bigger the titles showing, the more likely the heavyweights will be in town. I liked the programme this year, it was strong. But I didn’t get blown away by anything in the way that I have done in the past. If ONLY Michael Haneke‘s Amour could have been there… I know that these films will come out, and I will get the chance to see them, but the conversations you have at film festivals, and the progress that goes on in terms of thinking about The State of Cinema is dictated by the films you see. Nothing quite beats watching the Cannes winners alongside tiny movies like Exit Elena, and being able to talk to all the lurking cinephiles, for encouraging progressive thinking about film as art.
So Edinburgh has some decisions to make. Do they forge along their current path and keep at a strong international programme that will be critically well-received, and the festival will become a nurturing space for filmmakers and films? Or will they reconsider moving back to August, which will allow them not only to programme Cannes films, but also include them in the festival madness that also encourages the industry to come to town to talent spot in the theatre at the same time? I wish Mr. Fujiwara and his team luck in the next few months as the strategy for the festival will no doubt be considered, and I look forward to hearing what they decide to do.