Festival Watch

Edinburgh's international film festival had everything a movie fan could want - except megastars, says Leslie Felperin
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The Independent Culture

The local press this year were disgruntled by the absence of megastars on the red carpet. Like every film festival, Edinburgh has to pull in some glamour to attract attention and sponsorship to keep going and this time round it featured more hot up-and-coming talents than big names. Clint Eastwood, for reasons that sound rather odd (he's apparently not happy with his film's post-production), didn't come since he decided to pull his Mystic River from both EIFF and Deauville's film festival next month, despite the fact that the film played in Cannes last May to acclaim.

Ewan McGregor, meanwhile, couldn't make the opening night of Young Adam because he's stuck in Australia filming the latest Star Wars movie, and Heath Ledger and Naomi Watts didn't show for Ned Kelly's gala premiere.

Nevertheless, the stars who did come to support various movies have been a very talented bunch, including: Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine (In America); Clive Owen and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (I'll Sleep When I'm Dead); Aidan Quinn and Iain Glen (Song for a Raggy Boy); Kevin McKidd (16 Years of Alcohol and Afterlife); Shirley Henderson, Adrian Rawlins and Jamie Sives (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself); Colm Meaney and Cillian Murphy (Intermission); and Oliver Stone (Comandante) as well as innumerable other directors and film-makers.

EIFF's artistic director Shane Danielsen was philosophical about the Eastwood and McGregor's absences. "It's sad but it's not a body blow," he commented. "In the end, this festival is about more than just one variety of film."

EIFF has always championed Scottish film-making, and this year the festival has been rewarded with a very strong local crop. Amongst these were the audacious and beautifully shot debut 16 Years of Alcohol and Afterlife about a man who must care for his Down's Syndrome sister after his mother's death; the low-budget digital film Four Eyes; the intense study of terminal illness Solid Air; and the charming Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, shot with an entirely Scottish cast by a Danish director, Lone Scherfig.

From beyond Europe, highlights included the grimly funny and scatological New Zealand film Christmas (the sort of thing few distributors would ever dare to pick up), the taut Chinese thriller Blind Shaft; Skimkent Hotel, an offbeat, Central Asian-set film; the lyrical Argentinian drama Kamchatka, and oodles of provocative US indie fare. Standouts among these were the documentary Comedian, starring Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling and others; and the compellingly Lynch-ian Fear X, starring John Turturro, which just to confuse things was directed by another talented Dane, Nicolas Winding Refn.

An anecdote about the last typifies the defiant, stick-to-your-guns attitude of the festival as a whole. During a Q&A session after Fear X, Refn explained that the film (about a man who obsessively scans security tapes from a mall looking for clues as to who murdered his wife) works on three levels, a realist one, a surrealist one and one somewhere between the two.

An audience member raised his hand and stated that he felt the film didn't work for him on any level (he didn't have a question, he just wanted to say that). The unflappable Refn replied calmly, "Well, fuck you then." He paused for a moment, softened, then asked back, "But you'll never forget the film, will you?"

Sheepishly, the man acknowledged that yes, he would never forget the film.