Edinburgh Film Festival 2009: round-up
Trevor Johnston spends ten days in the Scottish capital, where the British films weren't so strong but Shane Meadows and Paddy Considine offered light relief with 'Le Donk
This year, the focus was back where it belonged: on the films. Like our own London Film Festival (but on a smaller scale), Edinburgh allows the celluloid junkie advance access to all sorts of delights, but where London’s strength is its intoxicating compendiousness, the Scottish event centres on new British cinema in competition for the annual Michael Powell Award. The UK Film Council-sponsored gong is now firmly established as an annual health check for our homegrown production. The trouble is, when the British films fail to shine, it casts a pall over the rest of the programme. But if the films aren’t out there, what’s the festival’s artistic director, Hannah McGill, to do?
Sadly, 2009 was one of those years. There was a lot of effort on minuscule budgets, but accomplishment was in short supply, so the overall picture was dismaying. That said, there were bright spots, and certainly Liverpool’s Digital Departures scheme, which funded Terence Davies’s ‘Of Time and the City’, showed well thanks to ‘Kicks’, Lindy Heyman’s crisply visualised tale of two Scouse teenage girls who kidnap a star footballer, and Lawrence Gough’s ‘Salvage’, an endearing attempt to replay a George Romero movie in English suburbia.
Two titles, though, stood head and shoulders above the rest. Andrea Arnold’s Cannes Jury Prize winner ‘Fish Tank’, a rites-of-passage story on an Essex estate, confirms that here we have a British filmmaker of world stature, who can take the stuff of social realism and turn it to heightened, piercingly expressive ends. Youthful lead Katie Jarvis fully deserved the PPG Award for Best Performance in a British Film, but the fact that ‘Fish Tank’ didn’t take home the Powell Award says a lot for the movie that did. ‘Moon’, the first feature by Duncan Jones, represents the sort of intelligent sci-fi you thought you’d never see again. It’s a startling tale of longing and loneliness on a one-man mining operation on the dark side of the moon, whose brilliantly imagined environs recall Kubrick, Tarkovsky and Ridley Scott. A worthy winner.
Elsewhere in the programme, the French stole the show with a triple whammy of ‘The First Day of the Rest of Your Life’ (a spot-on funny-sad contemporary family saga), ‘Mesrine’ (a kickin’ two-part crime epic with Vincent Cassel in swaggering form as France’s most notorious bank robber) and ‘Séraphine’ (the heart-stopping true story of a cleaning woman who painted like Van Gogh). However, the Skillset New Directors Award for best first or second feature headed west to Cary Joji Fukunaga’s debut, ‘Sin Nombre’, a vividly mounted yet dramatically clichéd tale of Central American immigrants risking their lives to ride the trains going north to the US border.
For sheer consistency, the documentary section was hard to beat. Michael Whyte’s ‘No Greater Love’ offered a suitably contemplative portrait of convent life in Notting Hill of all places, while the reliably incisive Kirby Dick’s ‘Outrage’ uncovered the sexual hypocrisy of America’s anti-gay legislators, and RJ Cutler wowed everyone with ‘The September Issue’, a look inside American Vogue magazine where editor Anna Wintour rules with frighteningly decisive froideur. Highlights? Well, the world premiere of Shane Meadows’s ‘Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee’, a shot-in-five-days music-biz frolic, was a hoot not only because the film was so much fun but also because Paddy Considine turned up in character as a roadie hoping to make it big.
Mark Cousins’s Bengali retrospective, meanwhile, not only played the works of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Tapan Sinha (ripe for rediscovery) to packed audiences but brought Ray’s muse, Sharmila Tagore, to town for an interview that was an inspirational demonstration of cinema’s ability to foster cross-cultural understanding. More like this, please, in 2010, when, hopefully, the programmers will have learnt from this year’s event and we won’t have to search quite so long for the diamonds in the rough.
Author: Trevor Johnston
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