Scottish news: Edinburgh International Film Festival – A rough guide
by Lindsay A. McGee
If you love going to the cinema, enjoy sitting in the dark sharing a personal experience with strangers or you just like to see a movie once in a while that isn't peddled to you by a major studio, you might find yourself heading to the Edinburgh International Film Festival between 20th June - 1st July.
But with over 160 screenings, plus special events and the 'Beyond EIFF' programme, how do you sort through it all and choose a good film?
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Check out the Brochure
It's a festival so many of the films are world premieres, except those in the retrospectives. The films on offer may be by new filmmakers or from countries whose films we rarely have the chance to see. An exciting prospect on the one hand but it can make choosing what to see a shot in the dark.
For the most part, the films don't have big marketing campaigns to lure us in. Charlize Theron as the Evil Snow Queen on the side of a bus or Johnny Depp dressed as Tim Burton's latest nightmare every time you login to your email. There are no trailers either to cloud our judgement, putting all the good bits in a 30 second clip so the film itself becomes a let down.
The brochure is our only tool, plus a spot of Googling, if you're so inclined. Whether you have the online or paper version of the brochure you'll see that the screenings are broken down into 20 strands. Decide at a glance what might, or might not, float your boat. From the opening and closing galas 'Killer Joe' and 'Brave', to the spotlight on documentary filmmaker Wang Bing, the strands will be your first indicator of 'must sees' and 'eminently missables'.
EIFF also has introduced the enigmatically titled 'Pathways', a breakdown of part of the programme by theme. If you're in the mood for escapism you can head straight for comedy or crime with 'Played for Laughs' or 'Edge of the Law' whilst neatly side-stepping 'Relationships' or 'Community and Conflict'.
Already you've narrowed your chances of leaving the cinema overwhelmed by disappointment and confusion (the Prometheus effect) and increased the possibility of pleasant surprise and accompanying buoyant mood (the Iron Sky effect).
See something Scandinavian
With 'The Killing', 'The Bridge', and now 'Sebastian Bergman' we know that Scandinavia produces quality television drama. Films from this quietly cool collection of countries are often challenging, different and unusually fun. The Norwegian 'Trollhunter' was a favourite at last year's EIFF with sell-out screenings. The beautiful Norwegian drama 'King of Devil's Island' was also a hit and boasted packed screenings.
The feature films on offer this year are gentle-sounding Swedish comedy 'Flicker' and manic-sounding Norwegian black comedy 'Jackpot'. There are also documentaries to choose from in the 'Focus on Denmark' strand. The 'Midnight Sun Event' on midsummer's day is dedicated to all things Scandinavian and has a special screening of 'Insomnia'.
So, there's no reason why all things Nordic on screen won't continue to be a good bet.
Find out if the film has a general release date
One way to decide if a festival film is worth seeing is to find out if it will go on general release. If so, it means that someone, somewhere (sales agents and distributors) believes it's good enough to make money.
This option will take a little research but what's five minutes Googling compared to two hours shifting in your seat, waiting for an appropriate moment to flee the cinema and commit boredom induced hara kiri?
If it's good enough for the experts, then it should be good enough to entertain. Of course some would say that an ability to make money does not equal a good film. But it depends on what you want out of your filmic experience. An example in this year's festival might be British film 'Berberian Sound Studio.'
The title doesn't draw me in though the premise is interesting enough, strange things happen to a sound designer in 1970s Italy working on the effects for a nasty horror film. It could still be utter guff but a quick internet search reveals that the film has UK distribution and was bought the day its premiere at EIFF was announced – someone, somewhere perhaps didn't feel they wanted to wait to see how it was received at Edinburgh before buying it. Someone putting their money where their mouth is, is enough for me to decide that it could be something special and worth seeing.
See a Latin American film
As with Scandinavian films, 'disappointed' is rarely a word I would use in conjunction with films from Latin America. Diverse, bold and humorous they often come up trumps, evoking pathos rather than sentiment, favouring character over action and open-ended quirkiness rather than trite conclusions. Rather more like real life than most.
The 'Looking South' strand showcases five films from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, both documentary and feature. Argentine 'Los Marziano' about a rich man who falls down a hole on a golf course sounds intriguing and darkly humorous. If only golf courses in Scotland had such holes.
Pick an old favourite
The surest way to pick a good 'un is to choose a film you've seen before. You know you like it, you may know it inside out but you may never have seen it on the big screen.
There are two retrospectives programmed into this year's fest. One is of American silent-to-sound era director Gregory La Cava and the other is of Japanese director Shinji Somai who made 13 films between 1981-2001.
If you hail from Japan, are a Manga fan or a silent movie buff you will be in seventh heaven with these retrospectives and will no doubt luxuriate in picking your old favourites.
For the less buff-like among us, then there's a one time only chance to see 'Lawrence of Arabia' on the big screen. A sure-fire winning way to spend an evening if you love this film.
Avoid anything Scottish
Only joking. But if you wanted to, it'd be easy as there are no Scottish feature films programmed in the festival. Yes, the Edinburgh International Film Festival. That's in Scotland, don't you know. Sri Lanka managed to get one in. Belgium has two. But we didn't. Unless you count Brave. Which is American.
Seriously, we have made some features in the last 18 months (not counting Cannes Jury prize winning 'The Angel's Share')...haven't we? Oh, yes. Hiding out in 'British Scene' is 'Shell' by the Glasgow-based Brocken Spectre, anything else?
We do have an event, does that count?: 'The Nine: Nine New Features from Scotland'. Which sounds promisingly as if there are nine new Scottish feature films to see. But there aren't. There are 'nine films, nine new writers and ninety minutes, plus a stellar ensemble of actors and directors'. Showing 'extracts' from nine new features. Why can't we just see the nine new features, why only extracts?
Never mind. We shall console ourselves with the Scottish shorts on offer in animation, drama and documentary. And fingers crossed we'll see the aforementioned 'extracts' in full, and others, next year.
Check out a Brit flick
With truly home grown film thin on the ground, the next best thing may be to check out a British film. Forget what you're always hearing for a moment. We, in the 'UK', are actually good at making films. Even if we can't distinguish which country they actually come from.
If you look at the top 200 films of the last 10 years, talent from the UK is surprisingly well represented in writing and directing. We also punch above our weight in terms of European and global box office receipts. So checking out a Brit flick is a likely good bet.
'British Scenes' showcases four 'British' films. They are all low budget and address edgy themes. Refreshingly, the selection is devoid of anything involving a group of characterless teens being picked off/trapped in an underground bunker/remote island/spooky house...
The Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature is back so the 10 films in that strand should also be worth a second glance.
Try something new
Sounds like a risky strategy for finding a film you like but, guess what? People in the UK watche on average 81 new films every year and 15 million of us visit the cinema at least once a month. So we try something new more often than we think. It must be fun. Let's do it again!
Any idea what Philippine cinema has to offer or better still, what Philippine New Wave is? Neither do I. So that's one good reason to explore this strand and find out. There are 12 films to choose from including features, docs and shorts. Even one about a woman who gives birth to a fish. Who can resist?
If you want to go all out on the 'trying something new' stakes then focus on the 'New Perspectives' strand. A selection of 40 films from emerging directors across the world. It'll not only be you experiencing their work for the first time but everyone else in the cinema with you.
Choose by director
So the title is intriguing and the premise sounds different but there are no names in the cast and you've never heard of the director. Instinct is drawing you towards it but you'd like to be a little more sure that you'll be seeing something accomplished and to your taste. A quick way of doing this is to check out the director's back catalogue.
There is a plethora of websites to refer to, IMDB is probably the most comprehensive. Type in the name of your director and their full filmography will appear. Note that this source is reliable because eligibility criteria apply to all films entered.
Like the sound of 'God Bless America' from the 'Director's Showcase' strand? But who is director Bobcat Goldthwait? Apart from someone with an impeccable name. He's a comedian and writer who has also written and directed a film starring Robin Williams. So he can probably deliver on laughs, potentially a good choice.
You catch my drift and you could spend all day on that website. Hopefully you have a life though, so simply check out the other films in the 'Director's Showcase', IMDB a couple of names and away you go.
Choose by writer
If story is your thing, take the above strategy and apply using writer's names instead of directors. They'll be a little harder to track down and when you do find them you'll see that many are one and the same ie. writer/director.
Look out for writer/director partnerships as well and have a fun time identifying who will be the next Paul Laverty/Ken Loach or Simon Beaufoy/Danny Boyle.
Check who wrote the screenplays for your favourite movies and see if they have made their way into the fest via another film project. You may be sitting right next to them and never know...
Watch films that are in competition
This year's festival brings back the Michael Powell Award for the Best British Feature and as mentioned above, there are 10 Brit flicks in this category to choose from. For the first time, documentaries are also in the running. 'Future my Love' (by Scotland-based Director Maya Borg) is one of these.
If the Michael Powell Award nominees represent good filmmaking across the board then choosing one or two from this list will surely be a rewarding endeavour.
The other competition strand is for international features. There are 14 in this group which spans animation from South Korea, documentary from the US and a Portuguese adaptation of a 19th century short story. Similarly, if these are the top picks from around the world then it should be worth including one or two from these in your selection as well.
Close eyes, stick pin in brochure
If all of that research was becoming too much then fall back on the reserves that have got you where you are in life thus far – accident/luck/instinct/fate/drunkenness. Stick a pin in the brochure, not because you practise voodoo but because you want to leave your film viewing fate in the hands of the Gods, or Mr Fujiwara anyway. Trust that his electic taste matches yours and go see whatever the pin lands on.
Check out www.edfilmfest.org.uk for further details.
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