Why the Croisette puts the Scottish capital in the shade

The big stars will be at the Cannes film festival next month, but its Edinburgh rival is looking far from glamorous, says Geoffrey Macnab

Morgan Spurlock, who pigged out on McDonalds hamburgers for 30 days in his documentary Super Size Me, returns with The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a film about product-placement in movies and TV shows, and which opens today in the US. It is billed as "a movie all about advertising – completely paid for by advertising". It follows the docu-star on the road as he attempts to get his film completely bankrolled by corporate sponsorship, whilst also exposing the business's insidious role on the big and small screens.

This is a tale a two film festivals, each happening within a few weeks of one another but which could be taking place on different planets. On the one hand, there is Cannes (11-22 May), whose 64th edition programme was announced last week. Then, there is the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), 15-26 June, now in its 65th year, which is being given the most radical makeover in its history.

Edinburgh is due to announce its programme in mid-May: bang in the middle of Cannes when attention will very likely be turned elsewhere. At this point, no one is quite sure whether the festival is about to self-destruct or is on the verge of a bold new era that may redefine the way we see film festivals in an era of austerity. The rumours are that the festival is running behind schedule. A public spat with actress Tilda Swinton about her role at the festival certainly didn't suggest harmony and cohesion.

Next month in Cannes promises to be the usual giddy mix of showmanship, starlets and hardcore cinephilia. The President's wife Carla Bruni should be on the red carpet for the opening night screening of Woody Allen's Paris-set romantic comedy Midnight in Paris. (In one of the most scrutinised cameos in recent movie history, she plays a museum guide.) Then again, Bruni might shun the festival on the grounds that it has given a slot to Xavier Durringer's The Conquest, which dramatises his husband Nicolas Sarkozy's rise to power... and also, judging by the trailer, portrays him as a foul-mouthed, pint-sized megalomaniac.

Even if Bruni is a no-show, the festival still has plenty of star wattage. Johnny Depp and his crew will be in town for the world premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: on Stranger Tides. Robert De Niro is heading up the festival's main jury. Sean Penn and Brad Pitt will be on the Croisette together for the premiere of Terrence Malick's 1950s period piece, The Tree of Life. Penn will be competing against himself. He is also the lead in Paolo Sorrentino's competition entry This Must Be the Place, in which he plays a rock star on a mission to track down his father's executioner, a Nazi war criminal hiding out in the US.

In recent years, while other film festivals suffered grievously as sponsorship dried up and public funding was cut, Cannes has sailed calmly onward. The parties may have grown marginally less lavish and the yachts ever so slightly smaller in the wake of the economic crisis but this is still the event that everyone wants to attend.

While all is serenity in Cannes, Edinburgh is entering a period of turbulence – of huge artistic and economic uncertainty. Its budget is down (the organisers won't say by how much.) The extra funding it received from the UK Film Council at the time it severed links with the main Edinburgh festival (in August) and shifted dates to June instead is all spent. Its artistic director has left. The project to turn the festival into the "Sundance of the North" appears to have been quietly shelved. To the astonishment of some industry observers, Edinburgh is scrapping (at least for this year) its Michael Powell award for New British Cinema. This is (or was) one of the most coveted prizes in British film circles.

The British presence in the Cannes competition this year is limited to Scottish director Lynne Ramsay's (US-set) We Need to Talk About Kevin. Adapted from the Orange Prize-winning novel by Lionel Shriver, the film stars Tilda Swinton as the mother of a teenage boy who goes on a murderous rampage. Swinton will almost certainly be in Cannes for its premiere. One question currently worrying the EIFF organisers is whether she will be at their event too.

Swinton has long been one of the festival's most energetic champions. Late last year, when EIFF organisers announced that the festival's new director James Mullighan would be working alongside Swinton, author Mark Cousins and producer Lynda Myles, onlookers assumed that Swinton would play a key role in putting together the 2011 programme. There was therefore dismay and confusion this month when Swinton made it clear that she never was part of any official festival steering or curating committee.

"I was never a part of such an initiative and I was clear from the start that I wanted this misinformation corrected by the festival. However, my understanding is that such a correction never took place," the actress told The Hollywood Reporter.

Mark Cousins confirms that he, Swinton and Myles are not as intimately involved with the direction of this year's festival as festival insiders had themselves implied. Their role was to act as unpaid brainstormers.

"We were brought in to do a va-va-voom think tank for it [the festival] this year. We suggested a series of radical measures. We are only the suggesters', not the 'makers' of the festival," Cousins says. "There was never any suggestion of us joining the staff."

Edinburgh can only dream of the riches that Cannes enjoys, both in terms of the premieres the French festival so effortlessly secures and its neverending circus-like parade of red-carpet events, stunts and announcements. Rather than try to compete, Edinburgh has decided this year to head off in a different direction altogether. Mullighan says he is aiming to "rustle up the whole fabric of the festival".

The idea this year is to transform Edinburgh with programmes chosen by guest curators and themed events. Cousins argues that "festivals are getting to the bus pass kind of age and they really need to renew their spirit and sense of boldness".

The risks are obvious. The UK industry will need reassuring that the organisers aren't on a one-way journey to cloud cuckoo land. Local audiences may feel short-changed if the event doesn't provide at least a smattering of red carpet glamour. The biggest worry of all, though, is that nobody will pay attention – and that's a problem that Cannes has never had to face.

Cannes Festival (www.festival-cannes. com) 11 to 22 May; EIFF (www.edfilmfest.org.uk) 15 to 26 June

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