FILM / Low-budget attractions of the 'Cannes of the North': Sheila Johnston on the Edinburgh Film Festival

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The Independent Culture
THE EDINBURGH Film Festival opens tomorrow with the UK premiere of Jane Campion's Cannes prize-winner The Piano, but is finding itself increasingly beleaguered, both by lack of funds, and by sharpening competition from other events (it is now extremely difficult to attract major world premieres on the eve of Venice, Montreal and Toronto). Its main strengths lie in the independent sections.

Somehow the festival director Penny Thomson has managed to scrape together a respectable showing of British films - the first week includes Ken Loach's compassionate comedy, Raining Stones (another Cannes hit), Bhaji on the Beach, the first UK comedy directed by an Asian woman, Elaine Proctor's South African drama Friends, and The Hawk, a thriller starring Helen Mirren. Derek Jarman's new film, Blue, will be playing and Mike Leigh's dark and explosive Naked closes the festival on 29 August.

There is a scattering of 'no-budget' American independent movies, like El Mariachi, which cost dollars 7000, Another Girl, Another Planet, which was shot with a child's Pixelvision camera, and - astonishingly enough - two pieces, In the Soup and My Life's in Turnaround, about the perils of low-budget filming. The directors concerned are invited to a conference next weekend to share their wisdom and lick wounds. Celebrity guests giving masterclasses include local-boy-made-good Michael Caton-Jones, Ken Adam, ace production designer and - a last-minute addition - Martin Scorsese.

The festival also includes retrospectives of Mexican and Scandinavian cinema and a strand of World Cinema - we recommend The Wedding Banquet, a Taiwanese comedy about a 'lavender wedding', I Love a Man in Uniform, a Canadian comedy about an actor cast in a dumb TV cop show, and Alain Cavalier's strange, completely silent Libera Me.

Details from EIFF, 88 Lothian Rd, Edinburgh EH3 9BZ. Box office: 031- 228 2688 (cc 031-229 2550).