The Edinburgh taboo

Is the British festival wise to turn its back on the Hollywood glitterati this year? Kaleem Aftab reports on a high-risk policy
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The Independent Culture

Edinburgh's artistic director Shane Danielsen, denying that the festival is in decline, said at a party for Saul Metzstein's Guy X: "I was disappointed to lose Keane [to Deauville, which shows only American independents]. It was one of two films that I wanted that I didn't get. The Deauville model does point the way forward for film festivals. Although I don't think that is true for Edinburgh, we are lucky that the British films on selection this year, or last year when we had Dead Man's Shoes and My Summer of Love, are so strong."

There are some who feel that Danielsen has failed to attract the most talked about and anticipated films to Edinburgh - Nokia's withdrawal as sponsor was said to be because the attention it expected the festival to generate has not materialised. Danielsen also has a combative, no-nonsense approach that rubs some people up the wrong way. "I don't care whether I'm liked or not," Danielsen claims. "The Scottish press is a parochial press, and they want to protect Scottish institutions, but I need to make the best festival regardless of national boundaries. I just want to put together a programme of the films that I believe are best. Some films I don't put in for other reasons. Optimum wanted me to put in Me and You and Everyone We Know, but they also planned to release the film days after it showed at the festival, so I preferred to put in films that were in Sundance, like Police Beat, that British audiences might not have a chance to see." Yet the closing film, Nick Love's The Business, is showing days before its release.

So what of the British films competing for the Michael Powell Award? First on show was Richard E Grant's semi-autobiographical Wah-Wah, a genteel affair told from the perspective of an 11-year-old about his rollercoaster relationship with his father in Swaziland in 1969. Featuring Emily Watson, Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson, it chooses family strife over political confrontation - to its detriment. Still, it's gained far more attention than David Mackenzie's Asylum. Adapted by Closer scribe Patrick Marber from Patrick McGrath's bestseller, and starring Natasha Richardson as a bored housewife who has an affair with one of the patients at her husband's psychiatric hospital, Asylum was plagued by production problems and it shows on screen.

Both Lexi Alexander's Green Street and Nick Love's The Business are tales of lads who love drinking, fighting and shagging. In Green Street, a Yank in London (Elijah Wood) gets entangled with the hooligan element of West Ham. Nick Love's latest, The Business, is an altogether different proposition. A rambunctious tale of British gangsters living on the Costa Del Sol in the 1980s, it features great costumes and music from the era.

Gaby Dellal's On A Clear Day and Julian Jarrold's Kinky Boots follow people's reactions to being made redundant in a declining industry. Kinky Boots goes for The Full Monty comedic approach and features a towering performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor as a drag queen. On a Clear Day, which sees Peter Mullan attempt to swim the Channel, does not hit the same notes.

At Cannes, Thomas Clay's The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael was slammed for a brutal rape scene. More pertinent would have been outrage over the bad acting, the inept depiction of working-class characters and its naive view of the world. Only the camerawork of Yorgos Arvanitis has merit. It's the experimental camerawork in Mary McGuckian's Rag Tale that is its main flaw. It is a major distraction from the unfolding plot centring on the shenanigans in the offices of a British tabloid.

Stephen Woolley's Stoned, about the life and death of Rolling Stone Brian Jones, borrows heavily from Oliver Stone's The Doors. It's not as good as you want it to be and suffers from a lack of direction in the storyline. The same problem afflicts Josh Appignanesi's study of the faith of a young girl in a British Jewish community, Song of Songs.

That leaves four films that are likely to be battling it out for the Powell prize. Saul Metzstein's Guy X is set on a US army base in Greenland in the aftermath of Vietnam. American Pie's Jason Biggs gives a revelatory performance as a soldier trying to understand how and why he is at the base. Jan Dunn's Gypo, the first official British Dogme movie, is a moving account of refugees in Britain told from three perspectives.

The artist Dave McKean teams up with his co-writer on the graphic novel Sandman, Neil Gaiman, to create MirrorMask, a fantasy tale that manages to capture the look and feel of his comic book drawings. Gavin Hood's Tsotsi, set in a Soweto township, is all about atmosphere. The story, in which a criminal steals a car with a baby in the back, takes a back seat to the music and urban patois.

To 28 August (0131-623 8030)

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