This article is from 2006.
It may not be very apparent yet, but Scotland’s summer festivals are feeling seismic tremors. On the one hand there are new chiefs heading up two of Edinburgh’s prestigious festivals. On the other, there’s a new, upmarket music festival outside Glasgow from the people who bring us T in the Park. Together, they add up to a brave new cultural landscape taking shape in 2007. The List sat down with the Festival high heidyins to discuss their revolutionary plans.
The new artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Hannah McGill, shares her plans with Paul Dale.
Paul Dale Less than a year ago, you were a successful journalist, an award-winning writer.
Hannah McGill What went wrong?! (laughing) Actually, the Film Festival first approached me when I was a hack and asked me to be a programme consultant, which was wonderful. At the beginning it was Lizzie Francke [artistic director, 1997-2001] who asked me. She then recommended me to Shane Danielsen [artistic director, 2002-6]. It started with just helping them out at Cannes, and my role got bigger as the years went on and Shane and I found quite a lot of common ground, taste-wise. But Shane was very much a lone gunman. He liked to make the decisions himself.
PD In a recent interview you suggested that you might move the date of the Festival. Is there any truth in that?
HM It wasn’t an interview about moving the dates of the Festival! That was one question that was asked during the interview, and the editors made it the main thrust of the piece. Like any arts organisation, we regularly discuss all the possibilities open to us, and that is one thing that has been discussed throughout the Film Festival’s history. But there are no imminent plans to move the date.
PD I think that’s a great idea, in terms of getting interesting movies.
HM There are pros and cons and it’s something we’d have to think about over a long period of time. It probably wouldn’t happen during my tenure and it’s not actually a decision for the artistic director: it’s a matter for the board and the managing director. Nevertheless, the feedback from that interview has been interesting and it’s an issue we want out there for people to discuss.
PD There is a view in some sections of the press that Shane Danielsen did a lot of damage to the Festival. How true is that?
HM The box office takings went up every year under his tenure. He got fantastic films and great guests and if the people were buying more tickets then you can’t say that he damaged it. Shane is a person for whom I have massive respect. I love the work he did. He is a confrontational individual, there’s no denying it, but he is also an enormously knowledgeable scholar of film. He made a Festival that was very much his own.
PD Is there a ceiling which restricts you?
HM Financially? I doubt there are instances where Shane’s programme was constrained by lack of funds. He made the Festival he wanted to make and in terms of celebrity, he certainly delivered. A Film Festival that in one year can invite Steven Soderbergh, Charlize Theron, Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Smith and Arthur Penn is not compromising.
PD So why did Red Road, probably the best Scottish film in the last ten years, not open this year’s Festival? And The Last King of Scotland? Why are these two movies going to the London Film Festival?
HM It’s not as if anyone was sitting in the office saying, ‘shall we back Red Road? Nah, lets not’. Obviously, you pitch incredibly hard for films you want, but the decision is ultimately with the distributor or the sales agent or the filmmaker …
PD Why did they decide not to give Scottish films to a Scottish film festival?
HM It happens to every film festival. Cannes doesn’t get all the films it wants; London certainly doesn’t get all the films it wants. But on a personal level, I was deeply disappointed that Red Road wasn’t in Edinburgh.
PD What’s your agenda?
HM One area that I plan to work on is the British section. We have the Michael Powell Award: if you’re going to do things in his name you need to be getting the best stuff. I’m interested in expanding Blackbox, the part of the Festival that deals with video art and visual art because I think the crossover between cinema and gallery art is really interesting. Documentary and British film are areas where we should also be pushing really hard. It’s about tuning into the audience. I’ve watched every single goddamn film that’s come out in this country for the last six years, so my spectrum of taste is very wide indeed. In this job it’s good to have a taste for the weirdest, most fucked up little thing and for the big shiny things as well.
PD Will you get more Scotland-based folk involved?
HM Many Scottish people who have gone on to over-achieve in other areas were involved with the Film Festival, whether it’s Robbie Coltrane driving people around or Kevin MacDonald. They have come through the ranks so they’re keen to come back. In terms of films, I’d love to show great Scottish films. Red Road and The Last King of Scotland weren’t in the Edinburgh Film Festival, but it’s still really great for us that they are out there. You know, The Last King of Scotland opening the London Film Festival, Red Road winning the Jury Prize at Cannes - it’s been a really amazing year.
The makers of T in the Park are launching a brand new Scottish music festival called Connect. Organiser Geoff Ellis shares his vision with Mark Robertson.
Mark Robertson Where did the idea for Connect come from?
Geoff Ellis About 18 months ago I started thinking that there is really a market in Scotland for another festival. Obviously not on the scale of T in the Park but for a more musically discerning audience who aren’t necessarily wanting to see Coldplay or Red Hot Chili Peppers.
MR Is it for those who have outgrown T in the Park?
GE Not at all. There will inevitably be crossover with people who also go to T in the Park. We’re not trying to be a huge festival, we’re trying to be a medium-sized one. The word boutique is perhaps a little over-used now, but you’ve got Indian Summer and Isle of Skye events nearer the 6000 mark and there’s a nice feel at both of those events and what we’re trying here is something between there and T in the Park. We’re not going to have the luxury of eight stages where we can dedicate one for unsigned talent and one for breaking talent. There will be some breaking talent obviously, but we’re going to have three stages. One is an outdoor stage facing the castle with the river behind it and then we’ll have two smaller tents but the hard thing is to describe it musically. It’ll make sense when you see the bill.
MR Who would be a typical Connect-goer then?
GE Our first thought to be honest was people who read the Sunday Herald and The List! The best way to define what I see as a Connect fan is by what they listen to on their iPod. Obviously I can’t say exactly what bands we’re hoping to get because that would scupper the whole thing, but bands like Radiohead, New Order, Sonic Youth or Pixies who are ground breaking, but also Zero 7 or Basement Jaxx.
MR Are there any festivals that particularly informed the ideas behind Connect?
GE I wouldn’t say there was any direct influence from other festivals but going to Fuji (in Japan) did as regards the location in the countryside. The recycling initiatives too. In terms of the vibe, maybe Coachella in Palm Springs, which has a really relaxed atmosphere. I’m picturing people sitting on the banks of the loch with the castle in the background. It’ll be a small campsite, a bit calmer than at T. I’m not saying sedate, but you’ll be able to hire a teepee or take your own tent. I’m not trying to say it’s going to be Horlicks before bedtime: the average age for T in the Park might be 21 but this is probably 27.
MR Why Inverary?
GE I had looked at the site before for a one-day event that we were planning but it was only when I got to see the place I realised it would be perfect. The field in front of the castle is perfect for the main stage and there’s a nice area to the side where the artists can have their rest rooms then straight through to the back stage. It just has a nice feel to it.
MR Doesn’t this date clash with Indian Summer next year?
GE I have spoken to Paul Cardow (of promoters PCL) about the possibility of there being an Indian Summer that weekend, but he is still in the process of deciding what to do so we had to go for it. Being in September, the end of the summer period, it is the last real weekend the acts are touring the festival circuit.
MR When will you announce the bill?
GE We’ll announce the line-up in March.
Connect, Inveraray Castle, Argyll, 1&2 Sep.
Jonathan Mills, the new director of the Edinburgh International Festival, talks to fellow Australian Steve Cramer.
I suppose what people expect from Australians abroad is so flatly contradicted by Jonathan Mills, the new Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, that many would refuse to believe his origins. The Sydney boy is so urbane and articulate, with a slightly academic manner of speaking which speaks of a long association with university research, that he’s likely to have to deal with little of the backslapping ‘g’day mates’ that the rest of us expatriates face on a daily basis.
Steve Cramer You’re actually from profoundly Anglo Australian stock aren’t you?
Jonathan Mills I lived in the UK as a child, in London, and my grandfather was from Glasgow. Though I never knew him, I think there’s that link. You learn from parents who learn from grandparents.
SC How does arts funding in Australia compare with Britain? Is the atmosphere here any better for creative people?
JM Things there aren’t as bad as they’re made out to be. They’re more conservative, and they’re not that great, but they’re better than things are here in some ways. This is a genuinely philistine government, I suspect. I don’t mean the Scottish Executive, I mean aspects of New Labour - you missed the really exciting years in Australia under Paul Keating.’
SC I sense that, if not exactly a truculent character, you won’t shy away from a fight if cornered. So what do the funders need to do?
JM The politicians need to see that there’s a lot at stake, and that there’s a fundamental investment involved in the festival, not just a grant. It hasn’t been a problem in Scotland but I think it’s about to be. We have to be competitive in terms of being an attractive destination for audiences. We need to have budgets for genuine international marketing. The Edinburgh Festival is one of the two or three great things that Scotland has going for it, along with things like golf in St Andrews and Whisky. Anything that gets people here to Scotland is a great thing, and Edinburgh needs to be the gateway to that.
SC The number of arts festivals in the UK has been rising in recent years. Do you believe the Manchester Festival will become a threat?
JM I hope Manchester does take off. I think the more people who get into the festival there, the more will get into festivals in general. It’s like that cappuccino shop thing - one cappuccino shop does alright, then six do much better. I don’t feel fazed or in competition or under threat at all. We don’t have to change the Edinburgh experience in relation to Manchester, Edinburgh is the Edinburgh experience. I want to evolve what that is, but I don’t want to revolutionise it.
SC What are your ideas for expanding the Festival’s market? Do you believe all the Edinburgh festivals could combine to promote the city collectively?
JM We need to define discuss, argue about and declare our relationships in terms of programming and so forth. The broad thing is that we live in an era where individuals make as much difference as corporations financially. The countries that court people have great cultural cities - look at Bilbao ten years ago, it was a dump. We require more than just shows - there has to be a particular genius of place that revolves around a festival, and Edinburgh has it. Everything’s in walking distance, just for a start. Places like Avignon, Salzburg and Adelaide have it. It needs an intellectual life that’s serious, but not so serious that nothing else that interesting happens, because it excludes outside influences.’