Under the directorship of Mark Cousins, who took over last year and brought a new impetus to the festival (as well as sponsorship) just at the point when it seemed to have lost its way, Edinburgh once again becomes a place for exuberant discussion with a programme that trawls cinema's past, as well as picking over the present. Raiding the archives for the anniversary celebrations there is a retrospective focus on the history of the documentary - with such seminal films as Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North and John Grierson's Night Mail featured along with rarely screened work by Kieslowski. There is a section devoted to the films produced in 1947, the founding year, which provides a revealing probe of a particular historical moment's psyche. Gathering together Charles Vidor's Gilda, Orson Welles's The Lady from Shanghai, Ozu's Record of a Tenement Gentleman and Roberto Rossellini's Germany Year Zero among others, one can infer the schizophrenia of the highly charged post-war days. Highlights here include a "scene by scene" masterclass from cinematographer Henri Alekan, who was behind the incandescent look of Cocteau's sublime La Belle et la Bete, while his British counterpart Jack Cardiff will be on hand to discuss his work with Technicolor on Powell and Pressburger's extraordinary, erotic Black Narcissus.
Meanwhile, one wonders what cineastes might make of the festival's crop of contemporary films in 50 years' time. The number of titles has swelled to 300 this year, with the festival spilling over into Glasgow. But even with such expansion it is the kind of event that has retained some sense of intimacy so that that small films don't feel swallowed up. There are the big guns, with Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book, a stunning exploration of the word and the flesh (Greenaway will also be doing a "scene by scene"); John Sayles's Lone Star, a shrewdly observed thriller set in a Texas border town, and Patrice Leconte's Ridicule, an acerbic cautionary tale set in Revolutionary France. Meanwhile, Lars Von Trier's breath- taking tale of passion and sacrifice, Breaking the Waves, sweeps the director into the top league along with Emily Watson, who gives the most astounding central performance. But in keeping with Edinburgh's commitment to new voices, it is the small films that are equally the festival finds. For starters, this year one should check out Andrew Kotting's enthralling Gallivant, a picaresque series of postcards from the edge of Berlin which is eccentric and moving by turn. Shane Meadows's low-budget comedy Small Time and Curtis Radclyffe's sinister thriller Sweet Angel Mine should also confirm them as names to watch. Meanwhile, over the next two weeks, who knows what else will rise to the surface?
n The Edinburgh Film Festival runs from 11 to 25 Aug. Information hotline: 0131-229 2550