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At Edinburgh: For Film, not Industry; Haynes, Maybury win Prizes

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire September 10, 1998 at 2:0AM

At Edinburgh: For Film, not Industry; Haynes, Maybury winPrizes
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At Edinburgh: For Film, not Industry; Haynes, Maybury win
Prizes

by Laura Macdonald




Having just completed its 52nd year, The Edinburgh International Film
Festival
stands firmly as the world's longest running film fest. Despite
its strong reputation as a major, the festival is definitely one for
filmmakers rather than the film industry. Consequently, there was some
debate as to the festival's ability to facilitate distribution deals for
the filmmakers it so avidly showcased and supported. The big news was
that Darren Aronofsky's US Sundance winner, "Pi," was picked up by
Pathe. However, it turns out that Pathe actually acquired UK
distribution the week beforehand and that the word merely spread during
the first week of the fest.


Lizzie Francke, the Festival Director told indieWIRE, "It's important to
us that the filmmakers feel that their films are thought about in the
right way. It's not about the super big deals, but it's about generating
excitement around a film that might lead to the big deals." One prime
example was "Get Real," a small British film directed by Simon Shore.
The tender story, about a 16-year-old boy who lives in Southern England,
falls in love with the school jock and comes out of the closet won
audiences over across the board with its upbeat, comic pace, great
soundtrack, wonderful performances and universal appeal. It took home
The Standard Life Audience Award which was open to every film in the
festival - not an easy win. Francke predicted that "Get Real" will get a
distribution deal in Toronto.


Edinburgh is a gorgeous city - it has a towering castle that dominates
the center, and a creative atmosphere like no other. There were so many
festivals running simultaneously it was hard to even count them. Apart
from The Edinburgh International Festival and its infamous spin-off, The
Fringe Festival, there was also a Book fest, Science fest, Crafts fest,
Bavarian Beer fest and so many more. The city was heaving with people,
despite the dismal summer. You couldn't walk two paces without being
bombarded with fliers to attend a multitude of events.


Thus, starting the Film Festival off with a bang was an absolute must.
Todd Haynes' seventies glam-rock extravaganza "Velvet Goldmine" opened
the two week fest and the party lived up to the film's madcap style, by
swimming in glitter and with costumes abounding. For most of the first
week, Lizzie Francke was forced to introduce the films with an eye patch
on, as she was a glitter casualty. Few attendees were without sparkly
nailpolish, regardless of gender, or a storming hangover the next day.


Probably one of the most unique aspects of the fest was the Scene by
Scenes. These were interviews with filmmakers, utilizing clips of their
films and discussing various aspects of the industry and the ideas
behind them. "Velvet Goldmine" dominated this section, with Todd Haynes,
Producer Christine Vachon and Costume Designer Sandy Powell all taking
the stage, while other guests included Terry Gilliam for "Fear and
Loathing in Las Vegas
," Atom Egoyan and Composer Mychael Danna for
"Exotica" as well as Tim Roth and Ray Winstone talking about British
director Alan Clarke, who died in 1990 and for whom a massive
retrospective was showcased at the fest. Running for roughly two hours,
the Scene by Scenes threw the floor open to the audience at regular
intervals, allowing an extended free flow between the filmmakers and
those that had managed to get one of the festival's hottest tickets. The
theater was always packed and full of responsive and interested people.


Spotlights was another unique, new addition to the events this year.
Film Four financed five young directors to go with the topic "Edinburgh
in August." They had two weeks to write and break down a three minute
script, then they were provided with all the materials, one day to shoot
and one session to edit. Five impressive and diverse films were made and
the directors were cheered onto the stage alongside a gob smacked
Stephen Frears, who just couldn't believe his eyes. He provoked an
interesting discussion about the short film market, or lack thereof.


The make up of the fest began with 9 Gala Films, including the
mesmerizing Foreign Academy Award Winning Danish film, Mike van Diem's
"Character," Robert Redford's "The Horse Whisperer," Peter Chelsom's
"The Mighty" and Aussie Stephan Elliott's hyper-real "Welcome to Woop
Woop
." Focus on British Cinema screened 12 diverse films such as Paul
McGuigan's "The Acid House Trilogy" adapted by Irvine Welsh from his own
work, Michael Winterbottom's disappointing "I Want You," Guy Ritchie's
classy gangster comedy "Lock Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels" and Peter
Mullan's audacious, emotional roller coaster ride, "Orphans." The
Director's Focus showcased 18 foreign films: Hal Hartley's sardonic "The
Book of Life
" and Tsai Ming-Ling's "The Hole" both produced for France's
'2000 Seen By. . . ' series; Kiyoshi Kurosawa's disturbing "Cure";
Adolfazl Jalili's lyrically experimental, Iranian film "Dance of Dust";
Alexei Balabanov's curious Russian film, "Of Freaks and Men."


The biggest section of all was the Rosebud, a collection of 31 films
from first or second time directors. Many well known US indies appeared
here such as Lisa Cholodenko's "High Art," Alexie Sherman's "Smoke
Signals
," Joe Carnahan's "Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane" as well as a
special event surrounding Marc Levin's Sundance Grand Prize Winner
"Slam," which received a standing ovation followed by a free flow poetry
night. Stand out films in this section included Gasper Noe's terrifying
"Seul Contre Tous" which comes seven years after his 40-minute short
"Carne," which also screened at the fest. Never before have I seen a
film in which a countdown covers the screen, allowing viewers to leave
the cinema before the film reaches its climax. This film received a
special mention, though the Channel 4 Director's Award went to Todd
Haynes for "Velvet Goldmine."


Other films of note included Stefan Ruzowitzky's triumphant Austrian
film "The Inheritors," Paul Middleditch's dark, tension-filled "Terra
Nova
" (Australian), the black comedy "Sitcom," by Francois Ozon (France)
and Thomas Vinterberg's "Festen" that premiered in Cannes.


Imagining Reality, showcased the documentaries of which there were 15
from all around the world. "Fragments*Jerusalem" took home the Observer
Award for its six hour, epic study of
producer/director/screenwriter/cinematographer Ron Havilio's family
history interweaved with the history of the city. "The Fear of God - 25
Years of The Exorcist
" by Nick Freand was a popular doc, with a midnight
screening of "The Exorcist" to follow. Once again, well known US films
from the festival circuit cropped up, such as "Lou Reed" (Timothy
Greenfield-Sanders), "Frank Lloyd Wright" (Ken Burns/Lynn Novick), "A
Letter Without Words
" (Lisa Lewenz), "Moon Over Broadway" (D.A.
Pennebaker/Chris Hegedus) and Frederick Wiseman's "Public Housing." The
British "Divorce Iranian Style" by Kim Longinotto and Ziba Mir-Hosseini
got a lot of buzz as did Greta Schiller called "The Man Who Drove
Mandela
."


As for the attending filmmakers, Eric Watson, Producer of "Pi" summed up
the mischievous crew's feelings about the fest; "It's been really
great, as there are a lot of people here who seem to be very passionate
about their films and that's the most important thing to us, that we
meet other people who love films like we do." Rose Troche, Director of
"Bedrooms and Hallways" a British gender bending comedy starring Kevin
McKidd ("Trainspotting"), Tom Hollander ("Martha Meet...") and Simon
Callow ("Four Weddings & A Funeral"), came to England to direct,
following her cult New York film "Go Fish." She commented that "This is
really a festival where it's not just industry people. It's really about
film and that's so nice. Industry people are total ruiners, there's
really a good place for film festivals with a little bit of love in
them."


Despite her fight with censors in both England and America, Troche's
film has sold well nearly everywhere else in the world. Her comments are
heartfelt as she struggles with the decision of whether to cut her film,
so it can be seen in the two major territories her film is aiming for,
or to stick to her guns and hope that distributors will come around.


Independent film in England is defined as those films that are
independently financed from any grant systems or established film
structure. Only two feature films fit this bill in Edinburgh. Firstly,
"The Tichbourne Claimant," first timer David Yates' s epic tale of
trickery. It was well received and with an amazing list of cameos from
the likes of Sir John Gielgud, Michael Gambon and Stephen Fry, it
attracted a healthy amount of buzz. The indie film that was on
everyone's lips, however, was "Urban Ghost Story" directed by Genevieve
Jolliffe, who is in the Guinness Book of Records as Britain's youngest
feature film producer. On her third film with partner and co-writer
Chris Jones, Jolliffe (aged 23 now) has taken the director's chair for
the first time. Mixing the horror and drama genres with ease, this is a
chilling film led by the mysterious young actress Heather Ann Foster,
who is supported by a great cast including Sean Connery's son, Jason.


Jolliffe shared, "When I came up here I thought that there would be some
more distributors. Other festivals I've been to have been much more a
buyers market, but I've actually really enjoyed it as it is much more a
filmmakers festival. This has allowed more networking with other
filmmakers and seeing panels and making contacts." Her partner Chris
Jones, felt similarly, and through tired, dark eyes he said with
confidence, "Whilst obviously we'd love to see the film distributed, I
can pretty much guarantee that the right people will see the movie,
hopefully in a good environment, regardless of whether it's at this
festival or not. What we get here is press coverage that entices people
to see the movie as people, especially at this festival, want you to
succeed. ‘Die Hard 4' here we come."


And let's not forget the Alan Clarke retrospective, one of Britain's
most revered, but least known directors. He lived and ruled during the
TV play era. Back then, a filmmaker could cheaply make serious drama
that touched a nation through the black box. Though he had his run-ins
with the censors, like for his film "Scum" that portrayed youth
incarceration in 1977 and starred the fresh faced Ray Winstone,
'Clarkey' continued to put controversial topics to the test. "Made In
Britain" starred an unknown actor by the name of Tim Roth as a
glue-sniffing Nazi skinhead, and allowed the character to get across his
point of view. Harmony Korine is quoted as saying in a Dazed and
Confused interview in April this year "If someone said to me 'Who is the
greatest director?' or my favorite, I would say 'Alan Clarke,' without
hesitation. In a strange way, I don't even like talking about him to the
press or to people, because he is the last filmmaker or artist that is
truly sacred." Francke watched Gary Oldman's "Nil by Mouth" on the day
that Labour won power here in Britain (May 1st 1997) and felt a real
need to revisit the under investigated influence of Alan Clarke.


There were so many other aspects to the festival it's hard to include
them all. The shorts sections ranged from Gaelic to Gala to Documentary.
Awards were given for Best British Short (tie between Matt Hulse's "Wee
Three" and Jamie Thraves' "I Just Want To Kiss You") and Best British
Animation (Peter Peake's brilliant "Hum Drum"). There was a Mirrorball
section that looked at music in film and included Iara Lee's
"Modulations," and had the best parties. Cinema Under the Stars sadly
suffered from the bad weather, as an impressive list of films were
screened on the beautiful Royal Mile as viewers shivered into the night.


There were many special screenings, but one exciting find was the
Surprise Movie -- The most breathtaking film of the festival filled the
screen as the final weekend arrived -- Ken Loach's "My Name is Joe"
starring Peter Mullan and Caroline Goodall blew everyone away.


Finally, closing night arrived and Erick Zonka's debut film "The Dream
Life of Angels (La Vie Revee Des Angee)" was the film chosen. The
leading ladies, Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Regnier, tied for the Best
Actress prize in Cannes. They are joined by "Nenette and Boni"'s
Gregoire Colin in this astoundingly moving piece of work.


The winner of the Best New British Feature, also took home the British
Performance Award. "Love is the Devil," directed by John Maybury, stars
the splendid Derek Jacobi and Daniel Craig, who both tied for best
performance. Maybury "wanted to create atmosphere, not historical
detail," when he put to film the destructive relationship between
painter Francis Bacon and his muse George Dyer. "It's a very complex,
but at the same time, almost cliched gay relationship - a fatal
attraction between the upper and working classes." The viewers are
enticed with Dyer, into London Soho's Colony Room in the sixties, which
Bacon refers to as the "concentration of camp," where Muriel Belcher
(played magnificently by Tilda Swinton) reigns supreme. The film weaves
a dark spell as the relationship between creativity and sexuality is
explored.


Jurors included actress Katrin Cartlidge ("Career Girls," "Naked"),
Xavier Marchand (French distribution specialist), Ninos Mikelides (Greek
critic and fest director), Lynda Myles (Scottish producer and past EIFF
director) and Bingham Ray (co-founder, October FIlms). Chaired by Simon
Perry
of British Screen, the winner of the Best New British Feature award was
decided unanimously using a non-voting basis. All in all, an excitingly
diverse range of people and films congregated in Edinburgh for the Film
Festival. Though big deals weren't done, a subtler, more personal air
filled the venues as the rain pelted outside.