Last night in Scotland, the Edinburgh International Film Festival officially turned 64 years old. The occasion was marked with the UK premiere of Sylvain Chomet’s acclaimed “The Illusionist,” before the festival heads into eleven days and nights of films, parties and industry events amidst one of Europe’s most architecturally renowned cities. indieWIRE spoke with the festival’s artistic director, Hannah McGill, about the impending festivities, and how one of the world’s oldest film festivals is continuing to re-define itself.
“I feel like this year we all feel as if we’ve really got the kind of program that we want to have,” McGill said. “We’ve been kind of re-positioning ourselves softly over the last couple of years to focus more on discovery and new filmmakers… trying to up our world premiere numbers but maintain quality. And I think that’s gotten through to everyone now. We’re finding that our discovery message is really picking up and that people appreciate that – whether it’s audiences or filmmakers. Eighty of the films in the program are from first or second-time filmmakers, and that definitely reflects the newness and freshness that we wanted to get. And there’s a very big presence of British filmmakers, and I think it feels like a point in the UK film calendar where people can catch up on what young, new British filmmakers are doing.”
Examples of such are rampant throughout EIFF’s program, particularly in the films competing for this year’s Michael Powell Award – which honors “imagination and creativity in British filmmaking”: “brilliantlove” (Ashley Horner); “Cherry Tree Lane” (Paul Andrew Williams); “Huge” (Ben Miller); “Jackboots On Whitehall” (Edward McHenry & Rory McHenry); “The Kid” (Nick Moran); “Mr. Nice” (Bernard Rose); “Ollie Kepler’s Expanding Purple World “(Viv Fongenie); “Pelican Blood” (Karl Golden); “Skeletons” (Nick Whitfield); and “Soulboy” (Shimmy Marcus).
“I think people are getting burned out on celebrity culture,” McGill said. “And I think I’m sensing that people are excited by the idea that they’re going to see stuff that’s unfamiliar and not necessarily star driven – although some of it is. I feel as if that’s our message – about discovery and not just responding to what the industry is already telling us is good. We’re trying to get out there and find our own titles and our own people to champion.”
McGill said that the festival hopes to help get those titles and people on a route to market wherever possible, which she feels is “more important than ever.”
“Distributors – whether they’re small, medium or large – are just picking up less and less stuff,” she said. “They’re not going to take a risk a small, niche British film unless there’s some evidence that they can get an audience. And my hope would be that Edinburgh can provide that evidence by promoting the films and the filmmakers, and showing the acquisitions people a real audience response… I do think that’s a very important part of what we do. Although, we’re not technically a market. I think part of what we should be doing for those films – and part of what the audience can do by supporting those films – is trying to widen the commercial ideas of the industry and say ‘look, if there’s a ravening audience for this film at a festival then why shouldn’t there be a commercial future for it?'”
The Edinburgh International Film Festival continues through June 27, 2010. indieWIRE will be on the scene beginning next Tuesday.