Edinburgh 2011

So with about a month to go before it starts, the Edinburgh Film Festival programme has been released.  And it’s… interesting.
This year’s EIFF has been hit by funding cuts – a deal with the UK Film Council to support the move to June ended last year – and it’s noticeably smaller than before.  Big premieres are noticeable by their absence (there’s no closing night film, for example, and no Best of the Fest on the final Sunday… maybe they’re not anticipating many sellouts).  More puzzlingly, there’s no Michael Powell Award for Best British Film, which was something that made Edinburgh stand out from the rash of festivals, and can’t have encouraged the submission of potentially major films.  
One film widely expected to be in the programme was We Need to Talk about Kevin, starring as it does EIFF Patron Tilda Swinton.  Unfortunately, it’s late 2011 UK release date means Artificial Eye are holding it back – a perfectly sensible decision from their point of view (a UK premiere at the London Film Festival will make more sense), and there’s nothing new about big Cannes titles failing to show up in Edinburgh. 
The Festival has retreated entirely from the Cineworld to the Cameo and Filmhouse (plus a few others).  No doubt some will see this as a good thing – there is grumbling from the some sections of the press every year about having to see films in a multiplex usually patronised by – shudder – ordinary cinemagoers.  To this I say, bollocks.  Quite apart from the fact that a Festival of this nature ought to be reaching out to the non-Sight and Sound reading contingent, the Cineworld is a perfectly acceptable venue.  Certainly, after a few screenings on the trot in the cramped and often stifling Filmhouse 1, I invariably find myself thinking wistfully of its generous leg room and air conditioning.
Given that last years EIFF was widely reported to have seen a drop in audiences (though by how much, and how it compared to the Festival’s last year in August, I don’t know; can anyone point me to the info?) it will be interesting to see how the organisers spin the eventual ticket sales for 2011.  I’m not suggesting that ticket sales are the only indicator of a Festival’s success, but if last year’s event is being tagged by some as a disappointment, how will they react to an inevitable drop in a Festival almost half the size of its predecessor? 
So, what have we got?  The theme is ‘All That Heaven Allows’, which means… um… well, I’m not sure, really.  It does involve a screening of the Douglas Sirk film of the same name, though.  And it has involved films being picked by a number of guest curators.  Some of these are very interesting choices; Bela Tarr, for example. He’s programmed Passion, a 1955 Hungarian version of The Postman Always Rings Twice.  I can’t imagine getting too many other chances to see that. But there are quite a lot of guest curators, and they only seem to have picked one or two titles each.  I would have preferred to have seen a more substantial selection from one or two curators. 
But that’s enough grumbling; what am I actually looking forward to seeing?  Well, The Guard looks like a promising pick for the opening night.  I rarely get a must-see feeling about big screen documentaries, but a sensible link up with Sheffield’s documentary festival has created a strong non-fiction strand; my top picks are Bobby Fischer Against the World, Sound it Out (about an independent record shop) and Project Nim, from James Man on Wire Marsh.  Studio Ghibli bring us the Mary Norton adaptation The Borrower Arietty (though the purist in me is vaguely resentful we seem to be getting the dubbed version). There’s The Last Circus, the new Alex de la Iglesia, and a number of horror/fantasy titles; I’m most anticipating Norwegian mockumentary Troll Hunter, but there’s also the Argentine end of the world tale Phase 7, and something called Rabies, about which the brochure seems oddly sheepish (“Horror fans will love this”, we’re assured, though it’s “silly”).
But brochure copy only tells you so much; the jury will remain out (even though Edinburgh doesn’t have a jury this year) until we’ve been able to see the films.  It’s a big year for the EIFF, one the organisers readily describe as being transitional, and I’m hoping it will work.  Either way, it will be interesting to see the choices the Festival makes for its future.

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