British films stage latest comeback at Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

Despite widespread despondency among British film-makers worried by a slump in production caused by changes to tax breaks, the festival director, Shane Danielsen, said domestic film-making had a strong showing in the 12-day event.

The festival opens this evening with Wah-Wah, the semi-autobiographical directorial debut of the actor Richard E Grant, and closes on Sunday week with The Business, Nick Love's follow-up to Football Factory, set in the underworld of the Costa del Sol.

In between is Stoned, the British premiere of Stephen Woolley's biopic about the demented genius of the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones, Gypo, described as "the first, maybe only British Dogme film" after the distinctive Scandinavian arthouse movies, and offbeat fare such as Song of Songs, a story of sexual obsession set in London's Orthodox Jewish community.

There will also be some scandal. The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael, a film whose shocking, climactic violence prompted critics' walkouts at the Cannes film festival, is also among the British movies being premiered.

And there is vintage fare for the buffs, a retrospective for Michael Powell, described by Mr Danielsen as "the best film-maker Britain has ever produced".

Mr Danielsen said yesterday: "What is interesting is that for the last couple of years, the Cannes film festival, which I admit is the gold standard in many ways of the whole culture, has said - by omission, by not programming them - that British films are shit. Journalists dutifully follow the party line. But I'm in the fortunate position of getting to see everything. So Cannes makes its pronouncements and everyone wails and then Edinburgh for the last couple of years has been very strong."

Although he hesitates to call it a renaissance in British movie-making, Mr Danielsen, who is himself an Australian, believes the industry has helped itself by stopping imitating every hit.

"There was a period after Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels when suddenly every British film for two years was an East End gangster film. And after Four Weddings and a Funeral, there was a rush of dopey romantic comedies that didn't have a fraction of the wit of the original. They were imitative, pure cash-ins," he said.

Today, however, he said there was apparent recognition that the Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino was right when he said that a healthy film industry made every kind of movie.

However, the programme includes its share of premieres from around the world including The Aristocrats, a foul-mouthed American movie in which comedians from Robin Williams to Eddie Izzard help tell the world's dirtiest joke, and Paul Schrader's 2004 prequel to The Exorcist, a film rejected by its producers on completion.

The public has responded with enthusiasm, with £50,000 worth of tickets sold on the first day of booking. Serenity, the feature debut of the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon, with a cast including Adam Baldwin and Chiwetel Ejiofor, sold out within 15 minutes.

Mr Danielsen suggested that Edinburgh audiences' measured reaction to Gaspar Noé's Irreversible, which caused a scandal elsewhere, showed they could take "iconoclastic tough attitudinal film-making" such as Robert Carmichael.

Asked what he was most looking forward to, Mr Danielsen admitted: "September". This is his penultimate festival of a five-year contract. "I think every film festival director should stop after five years. You get stale otherwise," he said.