Edinburgh fights back
The Scottish capital's film festival has fallen on tough times. But, says Geoffrey Macnab, despite hiccups, there are some signs of life to be found in this year's scaled-back event
One of the most intriguing films in this year's 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) was Bart Layton's The Imposter, a chilling documentary about the child impersonator Frederic Bourdin, who tried to pass himself off as a Texan kid who had gone missing several years before. To its detractors, the Edinburgh Film Festival itself has appeared a sham event in recent years. Its 2008 decision after more than 60 years to move dates from August to late June (and thereby cut ties with the the official Edinburgh Festival and Fringe) has diminished its visibility. The 2011 edition was one of the weakest in recent memory both in terms of red carpet glamour and programming.
Thankfully, EIFF is now beginning to rebuild its reputation under new artistic director Chris Fujiwara. The local press remains as hostile as ever. Scottish papers relished reporting that hundreds of seats for this year's opening film, William Freidkin's Killer Joe, were unsold hours before the screening began. Critics were also quick to point out that Killer Joe was hardly fresh fare: it had already shown at Venice and Toronto over nine months before. The industry turnout has again been sparse. Far more international distributors attended this week's rival event The London UK Film Focus (LUFF) than made the journey to Edinburgh. The late withdrawal of young writer-director Scott Graham's highly anticipated Shell (about a father and daughter who live in a remote Highland petrol station) caused a mini-squall.
Fujiwara has been modest in the goals he has set himself. There is no longer any talk of Edinburgh as "the Sundance of the north". Nor has there been any sabre-rattling against rival event the London Film Festival (which takes place in November.) Instead, the new artistic director has tried to programme as solid a festival as possible while also providing as much red-carpet glamour as a festival running on a modest budget of around £1.5m can afford.
This year's premieres – mainly new British films – were as hit and miss as ever. One title eagerly anticipated was Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio. There are some wonderful sequences here – a mock-up of the credits of an Italian horror movie, fetishistic shots of recording devices, very satisfactory moments of fruit being squelched. There are some strong films vying for the Michael Powell Award, for Best New British Film. James Marsh's Shadow Dancer (based on the novel by ITN political editor Tom Bradby and set in Belfast during the Troubles and Luis Prieto's energetic UK remake of Danish gangster movie Pusher are in contention as is supremely creepy doc The Imposter. Their presence suggests Edinburgh is at least moving in the right direction now.
Edinburgh Film Festival runs until 1 July (edfilmfest.org.uk)
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