Edinburgh Film Festival: Inside the Art house

Two films about the art world will be among the highlights of the Edinburgh Film Festival. The directors tell James Mottram why the time is right for their insider portraits of creative hotbeds

Filmmaking is ponderous by its very nature. The process of screenwriting, development, funding, shooting and editing can take years. So to make anything that feels vaguely topical, you need to either position a crystal ball next to your camera or be extremely lucky. But, arriving a week after Banksy staged his own audacious exhibition in Bristol's City Museum and Art Gallery, two films due to be unveiled at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in the next few days suddenly feel remarkably timely.

Duncan Ward's Boogie Woogie and Alexis Dos Santos' Unmade Beds both cast their eye over Britain's current art scene, albeit from very different perspectives. Boogie Woogie is an all-star ensemble (featuring Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson, Heather Graham, Alan Cumming, Gemma Atkinson and Joanna Lumley, among others) in which dealers, artists, collectors and wannabes all prowl around each other in the desperate hope of either discovering or being discovered. Based on the book of the same name by Danny Moynihan, Ward's film is a comedy of manners, giving an insight into the hungry agendas of some of the international art world's major players.

Meanwhile, Dos Santos' film is at the opposite end of the spectrum: two foreigners living in an East London squat find themselves sucked into a vibrant world of struggling artists and musicians. This is the second feature film from the Argentinean director, whose feature debut, the 2006 film Glue, explored dysfunctional teenagers as they struggled with adolescence. His follow-up charts the journey of two young, wayward expats (played by Déborah François and Fernando Tielve) in a dreamlike fashion, set to a soundtrack that features cameos by contemporary UK bands. Against the backdrop of a buzzing London, the pair find themselves in a creative hotbed.

As far as Ward is concerned, it's the media's recent and ever-growing obsession with the art world that has made this possible. "Only in the last five to 10 years has art made front-page news as regularly as it has done. Artists such as Damien Hirst are making their own auctions, manipulating the market with the same sort of tenacity as dealers previously used to – and still do. The public perception of art and awareness of it is much greater now. Beforehand, it was always – right up until the late Nineties – still very much a specialist environment that few people knew of: bar collectors, dealers, artists and interested people."

A documentary film-maker by trade, Ward has made films about artists such as Tadeusz Kantor and Leon Tarasewicz. He also worked with Brian Eno on the 1989 film Imaginary Landscapes. "It's never been something that I've not been in," he says of the art world. His wife, Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst – who used to work for the renowned dealer Larry Gagosian – now runs the Moscow-based gallery the Garage and buys art for a certain Roman Abramovich. Contacts such as these enabled Ward to secure his actors access to this rarefied universe during the course of their research.

With the story being based on the novel by Moynihan – another art-world insider, who has worked as an artist, curator and gallery manager in London and New York – Boogie Woogie immediately brings to mind the rise of Hirst and other members of the Young British Artists. Jaime Winstone's character, for example, is Elaine, a lesbian video artist whose provocative work has a whiff of Tracey Emin about it. Ward is too diplomatic, however, to confirm whether or not she was the main inspiration. "Everyone in the art world will know that character inside out," he says. "They've witnessed that artist several times over."

Indeed, while film-makers have made films about real-life artists before – Julian Schnabel's Basquiat, Ed Harris' Pollock and Robert Altman's Vincent & Theo, to name but three – rarely has a film attempted to capture the ins and outs of the art world itself. "Boogie Woogie is the first of its sort," claims Ward. "The other movie that could be closest to it is [Altman's] The Player, which dealt with how the film industry operated. That was very cogent about how it moved, and we've tried to do something not too dissimilar. So you see the high and the low players all mingling."

Still, Ward stresses he didn't want to make a "how-to" that sets out to lay the mechanics of the art world bare. He's also careful to underline that the film is not a cynical exploration of the industry. Indeed, given that he and Moynihan are good friends with Hirst, Boogie Woogie feels like it has an official stamp of approval. One scene even revolves around an exhibition of Hirst's work (featuring reproductions of many of his efforts, including his "biopsy paintings"), while the artist is said to have helped select some of the other art-works – including pieces by Banksy and Emin – that feature in the film.

While Boogie Woogie sets out to gently satirise the art scene, Unmade Beds comes from a more heartfelt place. If the title recalls Tracey Emin's controversial work My Bed, that's as far as the comparisons go. Set in a bohemian community far removed from the glossy world of Boogie Woogie, Unmade Beds shows a side to London's cultural scene that has rarely been put on film. "Most British films, they're usually either social realism or the opposite – like the Richard Curtis romantic comedies," says Dos Santos. "I hadn't seen many films that were set in this youthful environment that you actually see in London a lot."

Running two parallel stories – a Spanish slacker, Axl (Tielve), is looking for his father while a French girl, Vera (François), is embarking on a new relationship – the film puts its characters in a student-like setting that Dos Santos knew from personal experience. Having lived in London for 10 years, he used to frequent a squat in the Elephant and Castle that resembles the industrial-sized space where both Axl and Vera crash. "It was four floors of a massive warehouse. People living there were young artists, art students, musicians, kids that were doing art stuff, and they were throwing parties there all the time."

With the film eschewing the more trendy Hoxton for Dalston and London Fields, where impoverished art students are 10 a penny, Dos Santos believes London is a hive right now for emerging artists and musicians. "You have so many bands starting. You can go to bars where they have bands playing every night, and they'll be amazing gigs. And they're all starting or they've been there for a couple of years, and they're really good. And you've got something similar happening in art. For art, London is one of the most important places in the world. It's where everybody goes – so many great artists started in St Martins or Goldsmiths."

Unlike the Hirst-supported Boogie Woogie, Unmade Beds is populated with more underground talents. Bands such as (We Are) Performance, Connan Mockasin and Plaster of Paris all make an appearance in the bars and clubs frequented by the characters, while art-work from the Derby-based artists Ali Powers and Alex Giles also appears in the squat. If anything, the film suggests that London's really "happening" art scene is not to be found in high-end galleries, but can be glimpsed all around us. Take, for example, Vera's habit of photographing unmade beds. "She is the one in the film who will become an artist," notes Dos Santos.

If anything links the two films, it's the sense that artists remain perennially fascinating figures for those of us who live a more traditional existence. "A lot of artists in the past have lived art," says Ward, "which is what a lot of people can't do because they're restricted by the forms of their employment. It's very free and bohemian."

What's more, art, whether it's urban graffiti or displayed in the Tate, still continues to intrigue, outrage, provoke and enchant. "Our lives are designed around it in one way or another," reckons Ward. "Everything is informed by some kind of artistic decision – even the logos on the back of your jacket."

Although film-makers may only just be turning their attention to the art world, artists have been making the crossover to film for some time. Aside from Schnabel, British artists who have found their way into the film industry include Steve McQueen, who made the Bobby Sands drama Hunger; Douglas Gordon, who made the sports documentary Zidane: a 21st-Century Portrait; and Jeremy Deller, who co-directed the Depeche Mode fan documentary The Posters Came from the Walls. Currently, Sam Taylor-Wood is putting the finishing touches to her first feature film, Nowhere Boy, a biopic of John Lennon, having already directed the "Death Valley" segment of the erotic portmanteau movie Destricted.

While this might suggest that artists are all too ready to hop into bed with film producers, whether it be to reach a wider audience or explore something on a different canvas, Ward thinks they're not as connected as you might expect. "You imagine they'd be informed by one another. But they're two very distinct and different industries. The film world is much more governed. It's far less laissez-faire than you think, as you have much bigger budgets and the enterprise is much more corporate. Whereas in the art world, anybody can become a dealer or an artist. It's the most democratic bastion of activity you can find. For all of that, it should be ramped up and encouraged."

Admittedly, it's hard to imagine the film industry ever being run like the art world or accommodating a maverick talent such as Banksy. "The irony is obviously that film craft is so much more disciplined than video art," says Ward, who believes the latter is "the curse of the last decade" because most artists will opt for it as a means of expression rather than learn more traditional skills like draughtsmanship.

"It's a shorthand for a lot of things that people aren't able to do," he adds, noting that anyone can pick up a video camera. "It's a question of what it is that you make that makes the difference." Perhaps artists can learn from film-makers yet.

'Boogie Woogie' screens at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 26 and 27 June; 'Unmade Beds' screens on 24 and 26 June. Both films will be on general release later in the year

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin