The Edinburgh International Film Festival headed into its final weekend with only the occasional light shower and a city teaming with residents and visitors scurrying to take in some of the many events that are occurring in the Scottish capital concurrently, including the nightly spectacle of the Military Tattoo at the city’s imposing Edinburgh Castle, as well as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the book festival and other organized events.
The film festival took some time out from spotlighting the latest in contemporary cinema to fete a pillar of what many have come to believe is a golden age of American film, the 1970s. Edinburgh film festival artistic director Shane Danielsen hosted the last of nine of its “Reel Life” series of interviews Thursday with a 90-minute discussion with writer/director Paul Schrader in a crowded auditorium. Following a short preview and overview of his latest project, “Dominion: Prequel to Exorcist,” Schrader did not take long to bemoan the prevailing atmosphere in Hollywood today. “Marketing has changed the industry,” said Schrader. “The science of market research, not surprisingly, drives what is made.” For his part, Danielsen questioned the existence of U.S. indies today, saying “There’s a ‘Tarnation‘ every once-in-a-while, but there really isn’t any American independent cinema.”
Schrader recounted his experience in the late ’60s heading into the ’70s when studios were forced to change their content, allowing a new breed of filmmakers to briefly dominate this particular industry of storytelling. “In the ’60s, studios didn’t understand the counter- culture. They were making ‘Hello Dolly,’ but [my] generation wanted ‘Easy Rider.'” Schrader told the story of his beginnings under the wings of revered critic Pauline Kael, and his transition from film criticism to screenwriting. In 1975, he co-wrote “The Yakuza” for director Sydney Pollack, but soon afterward received greater attention for his work on “Obsession” for Brian De Palma, and “Taxi Driver” for Martin Scorsese, which was actually his first script. The film became the first of many collaborations with Scorsese, including “Raging Bull” (1980), “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) and “Bringing Out the Dead” (1999).
Despite his continuous work, Schrader lamented a change in Hollywood that he views as irreversible. “In the ’70s, we thought storytelling in Hollywood had changed permanently, but [we] now realize it was just a bubble. America was politicized in the ’70s because of the draft, but that has now changed.” Schrader also took aim at the new generation of Hollywood executives who he believes only view films as a means to make money and not much more. “The new breed of [Hollywood] executives don’t want original stories [and] they don’t love movies. Today, it’s a [faux pas] socially to say you like a movie that wasn’t successful financially. [I believe] the 20th century was the century of movies. I don’t think that in the 21st century, [movies] will have the same social or artistic significance.” Danielsen then chimed in, “movies are now about appeasement in order to get the broadest possible audience.”
Still, Schrader’s legacy was quite evident with the flurry of questions from the audience following the formal interview, and by the number of fans who mobbed him on his way to the car asking for autographs and pictures. Some of the other denizens of the film world who were interviewed this year in the “Reel Life” series included documentarian Albert Maysles (“Grey Gardens“), writer/director James Toback (“Fingers“), writer/director Anthony Minghella (“The English Patient“), U.K. cinematographer John Mathieson (“Gladiator“), and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon.
Audiences have generally been packing into screenings this week, including Sundance ’05 film “The Puffy Chair,” which had its international premiere in Edinburgh this week. “The audiences have been terrific,” said “Puffy Chair” director Jay Duplass, chatting with indieWIRE Thursday evening at a reception for fellow Sundance alum “Junebug,” (Phil Morrison), which had its U.K. premiere at the festival.
Thursday night also saw the world premiere of first time director Josh Appignanesi‘s moody “Song of Songs,” starring Natalie Press (“My Summer of Love“). Some of this weekend’s offerings include the U.K. premiere of doc “Voices of Iraq,” the international premiere of Henry Corra‘s doc “Same Sex America,” and the world premiere of Nick Love‘s “The Business,” which will close the festival.