Highlights among mixed bag suggest hope for return to cinephilia at EIFF

This article is from 2011.

Highlights among mixed bag suggest hope for return to cinephilia at EIFF

King of Devil’s Island

Reflections on Edinburgh International Film Festival 2011

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And when life gives you a programme for an international film festival that misspells the Coen Brothers name (among other heinous typographical and grammatical crimes), best take the bull by the horns and make the best of it, because you know it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Mixed metaphors, yes, but somehow apt for what has certainly been a mixed bag of a festival. With a visible lack of unification, a large amount of films or events were left to fend for themselves, some faring better than others. Those that did well were a testament to the festival’s strong and continuous infrastructure and the scores of people who have worked year-round to keep EIFF working. Whoever’s in charge next year would do well to try to make their mark on their festival with them, rather than in spite of them.

Some of the most engaging films were the orphans without a strand (King of Devil’s Island and The Last Circus included) and events like John Waters’ Polyester (in Odorama!) were hugely enjoyable one-offs. Alan Warner’s guest curating of the Skolimovski films was probably the most inspired, while Béla Tarr’s attendance for the films he picked put lie to the absentee guest curator concept, which might have been well-intended but came off scrappy and perhaps even tacky. It was a thin year for horror films and genre in general (especially for those of us who remember when the festival showed all three original Ring films in a single weekend, before the first one even had a general release). Rabies (billed as the first Israeli horror film) and The Caller offered interesting twists to the stalker/slasher genres while the thoroughly stupid Stormhouse was at least the best film this year to feature a possessed basketball. With no overt theme for genre geeks like myself to get their teeth into, those of us who looked forward to Trollhunter as much as Turin Horse had to do some extra work to find the subliminal threads tying a strangely disparate group of films together. Luckily, for all the talk of ‘happenings’, ‘poesy’ and ‘truffles’, EIFF was doing some serious minimisation this year and semi-repressed apocalyptic themes abounded nonetheless. Béla Tarr’s aforementioned swansong, David Mackenzie’s opinion-dividing Perfect Sense and Phase 7, the middling siege-apocalypse film, dealt with the end of the world as we know it in completely different styles. By Day and By Night, the pretentious sci-fi stinker, depicted a future where humanity has been divided into day and night groups, leading to the literal and metaphorical familial apocalypse. (Meanwhile, deadly serious meetings conducted in gravel pits atop ludicrously high chairs killed the film’s credibility just as successfully). I asked Xavier Gens, director of yet another post-apocalyptic film in attendance (The Divide), what he made of this glut of apocalyptic movies, and he pointed out the obvious – 2012 is on the horizon and the end of the world is nigh (if you believe the Mayans).

Considering EIFF’s future after what some consider an extinction level event for the festival’s credibility, 2012 will hopefully be a year of rebuilding rather than further self-destruction. (Luckily, this year, actual violent outbursts were limited to a knee to the crotch for an unfortunate member of the audience for Polyester and Kings Of Leon’s thuggish intimidation of Vic Galloway). Next year, failing an actual end of days, EIFF’s hope in the rubble may be a genuine return to cinephilia and not just a reductive return to favouring documentaries. In brief: red carpets mean publicity which means ticket sales, multi-buy ticket deals mean more ticket sales, there’s no such thing as a joint premiere and the Cohen Brothers are a blues band from Birmingham. See you next year!

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