How should the EIFF move forward?
Reflections on Edinburgh International Film Festival 2011
This article is from 2011.
When the lights came up on The Guard, this year’s opening film, my overriding thought was, 'that was fine'. It was quite funny and had a good cast, but was entirely unadventurous filmmaking. Fine, but nothing more. As a tone-setter for the 'reinvented and reinvigorated' 65th year of the Festival, it wasn’t exactly blazing a trail of combustible creativity, and it turned out to be a pretty good indicator of what was to follow. Not that there haven’t been some great films at EIFF this year – indeed, one or two will probably feature in my best of 2011 list – but it takes more than great films to make a great film festival, and the brains behind EIFF (and I’m not just blaming media whipping-boy James Mullighan here) seem to have lost sight of that. So instead of thought-out strands that pointed to a unifying theme (what does All That Heaven Allows actually, practically mean, and when did it ever have any bearing on this year’s programme?), we were given a series of disparate packages that appeared to have been selected based primarily on the presence of a willing sponsor or partner. Occasional moments of inspiration popped out; the Improvising Live Music for Films event was thoughtfully put together and a great success, and I sat in on a very interesting Composers panel discussion, but it was only in pockets like these that the Festival was truly buzzing. On a larger scale, there was no sense of occasion; the promised ‘breaking down of barriers between audience and filmmakers’ by using Teviot House as a central hub backfired when someone forgot to tell the audience that was the plan.
In fact, it’s this issue – communication, or lack of it – that is key to EIFF’s current predicament, and will be the key to its hopeful revitalisation. Many Edinburgh cinemagoers still don’t even realise that the film festival now happens in June, despite it being four years since the date shift; it wouldn’t confuse anyone if it moved back to August, a move many of the loudest media voices are calling for. More significantly, this year Edinburgh lost the confidence of many key players in the industry by failing to clearly voice what EIFF can now offer. I spoke to one filmmaker who said the industry presence was so sparse this year that it almost wasn’t worth his producer coming to town: there was no-one to sell his film to, no meetings to be had. The Festival needs to stop acknowledging the ways it can’t compete on the world stage and get on with doing what it can do, and telling the world about it. The truth is that there is a lot of goodwill towards the EIFF, as well as a lot of very able people who, given the right circumstances, could get it back on its feet and make it vital again.
As for this year’s films, I’ve gone into detail already about Project Nim and Perfect Sense, two films that I liked a lot, but I was also hugely impressed by Alex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus, Celine Sciamma’s Tomboy and charming record-shop documentary Sound It Out. In terms of pure cinematic satisfaction, my favourite film was Paul Fraser’s My Brothers, a lovely and touching mix of family drama and road trip comedy, that I sincerely hope gets a wider release at some point. In any case, I’ll be back next year, and hopefully the Edinburgh Film Festival will be too!