The Edinburgh Film Festival bounces back
In 2011, the Festival almost flushed itself down the toilet as staff came and went and the programme was widely derided. Trevor Johnston returns this year and finds an exciting, resurgent event.
It’s alive! After a shambolic 2011, which prompted the Time Out headline ‘The Death of the Edinburgh Film Festival’, it’s frankly amazing what difference a year can make. A boardroom shake-up preceded the appointment of a new artistic director, Chris Fujiwara, an American critic of serious international repute, who brought some much-needed curatorial heft to the 2012 edition, which wrapped last weekend.
Fujiwara has relocated from Tokyo to the Scottish capital, heroically ditching top-class sushi for fish suppers with brown sauce. And he has thrown himself into the gig – restoring the awards that were done away with last year and setting out a full-on high-fibre roster of arthouse fare crammed with the unfamiliar and intriguing.
It was a high-risk strategy indeed, since two bad years in a row might have finished Edinburgh off. That scenario is a nightmare for the wider currents of British film culture because Edinburgh has always been a crucial feeder of global and indie discoveries into our cinemas and an essential showcase for the year’s up-and-coming British films. So it’s important, and not just for the local film fans.
It’s a blessed relief, then, to report that Edinburgh 2012 has proved one simple thing: programme a load of really good films and all the carping just melts away. Given Fujiwara’s specialism in East Asian cinema, this was a strong area, with diverse highlights including the super-intense animated feature ‘King of Pigs’, a heartfelt assault on authoritarian hierarchies in South Korean high-schools.
There was also the magical lyricism of ‘Postcards from the Zoo’ – Indonesian director Edwin’s fable of female self-definition – and Katsuya Tomita’s expansive streetwise drama ‘Saudaude’, in which fiercely nationalistic Japanese working-class youth bristle against hard-pressed Brazilian-Japanese folk, while an ever-cheery music promoter reels off a think-positive catchphrase ‘Posi-posi yo!’
Having caught ‘Tabu’, the latest from ascendant cinephile favourite Miguel Gomes (check out ‘Our Beloved Month of August’ on DVD to see why), it was difficult to see how anything else in the reinstated International Feature competition would better this lovely black-and-white diptych of love and loss, contrasting middle-aged, middle-class anomie in doomy contemporary Lisbon with a provocative fantasia of colonial memory. But the jury favoured Mao Mao’s ‘Here, Then’, a fresco of rootless young lives in modern China, pieced together from an array of elegant long takes. It was a world premiere too.
Perhaps the big surprise, though, was the accomplishment of the British films. ‘Borrowed Time’, for instance, showed writer-director Jules Bishop reinventing the urban youth flick as a sweet-natured character-led charmer. Meanwhile, in the revived Michael Powell Award strand for British films, Merseyside-based writer-producer-director-composer Martin Wallace’s ‘Small Creatures’ proved another worthwhile discovery: a drama of tearaway early teens shot with a poetic eye that made familiar material appear new. Moreover, this year was the first time documentaries have been included in the Powell selection, among them Bart Layton’s dazzlingly shot ‘The Imposter’, a stranger-than-fiction saga of a Texas family who accepted a manipulative sociopath into their home believing he was their missing son. The worthy Powell Award winner however, was another doc, Penny Woolcock’s ‘One Mile Away’, which follows the efforts of rival gang members in Birmingham to stop a senseless postcode conflict that’s cost numerous lives. A riveting portrait of the complex, contentious reality of the streets, and the courage it takes to make a difference, it could well be this year’s most important British film.
Barely a mention of Hollywood so far, you’ll have noticed, which is an accurate reflection of the bias of the programming. Maybe next year might profitably include a few more pop-culture bonbons, but at least William Friedkin was in town for the divisive opener ‘Killer Joe’ and former Robert Altman fave, the actor Elliott Gould was airily holding court all over the place. There was also a glittery premiere for Pixar’s Scots-themed adventure ‘Brave’ to close the festival – a slightly obvious but impeccably mounted adventure which mercifully avoids tweeness in its ‘braw, bricht,’ surprisingly authentic Scottishry.
For new man Fujiwara then, job done, cred restored, a marker put down. The man certainly deserves more respect than his current one-year contract. On with 2013, and we say: ‘Posi-posi yo!’