The 53rd Edinburgh Film Festival opened with festival director Lizzie Francke taking to the stage to gulp an excited welcome. Last year the woman credited with giving this cash-strapped festival its current buzz nearly blinded herself with glitter eyeshadow preparing for the premiere of the glam-rock spectacle Velvet Goldmine. This year, she was sporting a pashmina to usher in the opening gala of Ratcatcher (below), a striking first film from the young Scottish director Lynne Ramsay. The diminutive Ramsay was dwarfed by the microphone, but rattled out her thank-yous, then modestly fled. Exit Ramsay stage-right, pursued by Lizzie and a galloping bouquet.
BROSNAN TAKES THE PREMIERE CROWN
On Monday it was a Thomas Crown Affair to remember. Though Bill Murray and Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader dropped off the guest list (Robert Duvall sent his apologies - he was shooting 25,000 extras in a football stadium for his new film, The Cup), leggy co-stars Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo brought a waft of Hollywood glamour to the international premiere of this Steve McQueen remake. In the absence of Sean Connery, patriotic picture-goers had to content themselves with Brosnan's Scottish spin on his jewel-thief character. A romantic scene sees Brosnan confessing to Russo's insurance investigator that deep down he's "just a wee Glasgow boy". The improvised line was Pierce's way of paying tribute to the years he spent as a struggling actor in Glasgow.
After taking more than $100m in the States, The Blair Witch Project has taken Edinburgh. Last night fans queued for stand-by tickets for the midnight premiere of this hand-held horror. After creeping through a spookily-lit foyer, they packed out all three of the Cameo's cinemas for the simultaneous midnight screening. The Blair Witch-ing hour had arrived, when a shaky, no-budget mockumentary would be transformed into the event of the festival: less hyper-realism than hyper-hype.
Go, the latest confection from Doug Liman, was the first "Late Night Romp" of the festival. A drug-fuelled portmanteau with a touch of Tarantino, Go tracks the misadventures of a group of Los Angeles youths one Christmas Eve. Acting honours belong to Sarah Polley - Canadian, socialist and Uma Thurman lookalike - who exudes a wry charisma as an over-worked, underpaid check-out girl.
WALKING IN A WINTERBOTTOM WONDERLAND
Michael Winterbottom's Wonderland, set over a few frantic days in south London, is a dreamy but dynamic film which uses everything from time-lapse to slo-mo to capture the frenzied isolation of city life. Its loose storyline, set to a Michael Nyman score, has Gina McKee, Shirley Henderson and Molly Parker as sisters struggling to find a decent man among a rogues gallery that includes flaky father Ian Hart and bedsit bounder Stuart Townsend.
BACK TO BASICS IN LEWISHAM
"Often it was just the cameraman, the focus-puller and me," says Winterbottom of his guerrilla shooting style: "There were no vehicles, no arc lights, no back-up". "No food, no water," jokes Parker, who goes through the late stages of a prosthetic pregnancy during the movie. "We shot that scene in a hospital in Lewisham," she told audiences after the festival screening. "When I was preparing to play a woman giving birth, I thought, 'now I mustn't be over the top'. Then I heard the screams of women in the wards around me, and I thought, nothing I could act would be too much." Winterbottom has a script by Nick Hornby in development, but he is already planning his next movie. Set during the Gold Rush, Kingdom Come is about a man who sells his wife and child to buy a gold mine. Big deal. There were film fans up here who did that for a ticket to The Blair Witch Project.
'The Thomas Crown Affair' (15): see review, page 3. 'Ratcatcher' (15), 'Blair Witch Project' (18) and 'Go' (18) will be released nationwide in the autumn. 'Wonderland' (15) will be released nationwide in the New Year.