The death of the Edinburgh International Film Festival?
The omens were always bad – but this year’s festival was a straight-to-video flop. Trevor Johnston heads north
Sadly, in Sirkian parlance, what we actually got was more like ‘Imitation of Life’. The weakest selection of films in two decades unspooled mediocrity after mediocrity. Prestigious visiting talent was notable by its absence. The Edinburgh Student Union building also provided an uninspiring festival hub. There were rows of empty seats, and when you eavesdropped on the paying public the same complaints resounded: little in the programme they wanted to see, and ticket prices too expensive.
With no multi-buy offers this year, and, staggeringly, no catalogue to offer a fuller critical appraisal of the fare on offer, one could hardly blame the Edinburgh public for staying away. Last year the event didn’t release official box-office figures: this year they may not even want to collate them. As someone who’s been a regular to this festival since my own uni days in the Scottish capital back in the mid-’80s, it was genuinely upsetting seeing an event which has been so vibrant and exciting in the past reduced to this shambolic state.
From a London-centric perspective, it would be easy to shrug all this off and count the days until the programme’s announced for this year’s inevitable celluloid cornucopia at the London Film Festival. That would be a mistake though, since Edinburgh has always in the past been a space where the fresh and the exciting could make an impact more readily than in the midst of London’s abundance of festival distractions. It’s been an essential feeder for the UK’s film culture, from ‘Let the Right One In’, ‘My Summer of Love’ and ‘Amores Perros’ right back to icons like ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ and ‘Betty Blue’. If the Edinburgh Film Festival loses the plot and becomes basically a local event rather than a significant date on the international calendar, then everybody loses.
To be fair, there were occasional flickers of interest this year, what with the absolute hoot that was ‘The Guard’, John Michael McDonagh’s sarky Connemara cop movie with a resplendent Brendan Gleeson, delivering a spirited opener. Hungarian maestro Béla Tarr was rightly accorded a hero’s welcome as he arrived with ‘The Turin Horse’, an austere yet uplifting parable of hope and endurance he claims will be his final film. Elsewhere, the standout in a small but largely unprepossessing bunch of British offerings, was ‘Hallam Foe’ director David Mackenzie’s ‘Perfect Sense’, which deftly used an intimate love story (Ewan McGregor, Eva Green) and Glasgow settings to unfurl a tale of a mystery virus wreaking global devastation while prompting a recognition of humanity’s core values – imaginative and ultimately affecting. I must confess a soft spot too for Jeanie Finlay’s ‘Sound It Out’, a loving portrait of an old-school record shop in Stockton-on-Tees, which was touching on a human level in a way that much-touted doc offering ‘Project Nim’, James Marsh’s vividly told yet thematically diffuse primate-research saga, never quite managed.
There were many more titles which fell below expectation, which largely meant the focus turned to the festival’s behind-the-scenes dramas instead. Although an expert in film industry networking, new artistic director James Mullighan seemingly lacks the cinephile expertise you'd expect for an event of this nature. Nonetheless, he did only have four months to put together his programme after much dithering by CEO Gavin Miller and the board of the festival’s new umbrella organisation, the Centre for the Moving Image. That the artistic director post will be re-advertised again next month at least indicates a recognition that swift action is needed, yet after hearing the hyperbolic twaddle spouted by marketing expert Miller at the opening night, and indeed much rumour-mill questioning of the decisions taken at boardroom level, confidence that the wherewithal is there to pull the event out of its tailspin remains worryingly low.
Possible solutions? A new artistic director with the taste to pick the right films and the fight to ensure Edinburgh gets them is surely the priority. Getting back to some ‘Magnificent Obsession’ (Sirk titles, we love ‘em!) could provide a basis for progress, and switching back from June to the August date of yore would surely help in accessing key autumn arthouse movies from British distributors, thus grounding the programme to allow for innovation elsewhere. Someone somewhere needs to grasp what exactly Edinburgh is for, and quickly. After this catastrophe, the last-chance saloon beckons.
Author: Trevor Johnston
Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.
The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards
Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow
Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.
The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.
Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'
'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.
Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.
The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'
The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.
Read our interview with Michael Haneke
The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.
Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'
Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.
Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us
Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.
Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set
The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.
Read our interview with Tim burton
Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.
Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'
Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.
Read 'Film guilty pleasures'
What will Disney do to 'Star Wars'?
Read about the new 'Star Wars' trilogy
Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.
Read 'When teen stars turn serious'
From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.
Read '50 years of James Bond'
The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.
Read the interview
Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.
Read 'Hilarious horror films'
The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.
Read the interview
We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.
Read about this Autumn's best horror movies
Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.
Read 'On the set of Skyfall'
Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?
The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.
'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’