Riefenstahl dead! Maybe

From Sean Connery in wagering mood to the Irvine Welsh bandwagon, it's been an Edinburgh Film Festival to talk about.
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The Independent Culture
There's been a lot of movie talk at the festival this year. And it's not been of the anorak-required, film-buff sort, in which aspect ratios are quibbled over in dreary fashion. Rather, there's been a bubbling enthusiasm that is quite infectious. In this city, at least, it is as funky to be passionate about films - both old and new - as it is to be about football everywhere else. One just had to hear the coos of delight from the crowds gathered for the open-air cinema on the Royal Mile. Indeed, who would have thought that Cecil B De Mille's 1915 version of Carmen, the image tinted to match the fiery emotions being played out, would stop Saturday-night drunks in their tracks and get them staring up from their bottles in awe?

The cinephile chatter started on the opening night with Sean Connery, Edinburgh's glamour-god of a son who can still set pulses racing, and Mark Cousins, the ebullient festival director, having a heated debate on whether or not Leni Riefenstahl was still alive. Connery was insistent that the bermadchen director of Triumph of the Will was not - so insistent that he has made a bet with Cousins. Rising-star cinematographer Seamus MacGarvey, who has been taking time out from shooting John Byrne's long- awaited The Slab Boys in Glasgow, stated that he bumped into her last month while he was in Germany. But Connery is holding on to his money until he hears her voice on the phone.

Other hot debates included the one over a lunch organised by Variety between Simon Perry, head of British Screen, and Virginia Bottomley MP. In a particularly cutting speech, Perry flung down the gauntlet at the Minister of National Heritage, criticising her and her department for the 10 per cent cuts that they made to the film budget last year, when the other arts were only subject to a 3 per cent snip. A decidedly piqued Bottomley, who obviously had not been expecting such a fiery tirade, abandoned her set patter and improvised with a rather vague line or two. While the other guests tucked into a creme brulee, Bottomley had her humble pie.

But while the Government may be showing a distinct lack of commitment to the British film industry, film culture is blooming, if the past 10 days of the festival have been anything to go by. And a curious thing seems to have happened over the past year, as the low-to-no-budget ethos purloined from the US has at last taken root, producing something that young audiences might want to see. What is most striking is how regional visions are beginning to emerge - it is reminiscent of the late 1970s and early 1980s rock scene, when indie bands each gave their cities a different sound.

Nottingham-based Shane Meadows's Small Time is a case in point. It's Ken Loach with jokes. Made on video and using his mates, who were mostly all on the dole roll, to help him out, it is an edgy, hilarious piece about, funnily enough, a group of mates trying to scam a living. And petty crime was never more petty than the great dog-food haul. Meadows and co send themselves up with a wardrobe of shell suits, dodgy haircuts and 'taches, but this is the world that the 23-year-old director, who is a cross between Alexei Sayle and Steve Coogan and seems to run on a perpetual motor, knows well.

But, of course, in the year that has produced Trainspotting and Small Faces, Scottish cinema has had a particular confidence boost. Talent-spotting is the game, with the programmes of Scottish shorts of particular interest. The Irvine Welsh frenzy continues with Granton Star Cause, taken from Welsh's story in The Acid House. Directed by Paul McGuigan, it is a suitably sick variation on the "life is shite" theme, here given a day-glo slickness and a buzz of a soundtrack. If a little too wayward - it could lose a few minutes and have concentrated a bit more on the acting - it's a heady piece fuelled by, but refusing to wallow in, contemporary despair.

Meanwhile, looking back to a kitsch-bright past, Patrick Harkin's Love Me Tender is a sweet tale about Elvis obsessives. John Milarky wrote the wry script while also penning The Star, which, inspired by an Alasdair Gray short story, engages with one lad's grief at the death of his mother. While it has a Spielbergian ending, though one with lo-tech light and no magic that it could have done without, there is much to commend - particularly in the performances that the director David Moore has coaxed from the children.

Reminiscence of childhood is also the subject of one of the most outstanding shorts at the festival, Lynne Ramsay's Small Deaths. Set on a Glasgow housing estate, it is a solemn, devastating triptych made up of closely observed moments, that equals the poetry found in the cinema of Scotland's late, great Bill Douglas. And that is definitely something to rave about.

n The Edinburgh Film Festival runs to 25 Aug. Booking: 0131-228 4051

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