FESTIVALS: Edinburgh Offers Fresh Faces, Roth and "Buena Vista" on Top
by Louise Carroll
"It's the only film festival that's worth a damn" -- John Huston could not have guessed how accurate his statement about the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) would be in 1999. Coming out of probably the biggest boom in the British film industry in thirty years, the streets of Edinburgh were awash with the U.K.'s brightest talent for the month of August. You could hardly walk down Lothian Road without stumbling into Tim Roth, Ben Hopkins, Lynne Ramsay or Shane Meadows.
The chosen bookends of the festival, which opened with Lynne Ramsay's "Ratcatcher" and closed with Jasmin Dizdar's "Beautiful People," symbolized the massive support for the British film industry. "Ratcatcher," set in Ramsay's native Glasgow, was arguably the most outstanding film of the festival. Unbelievably only her first feature film, Ramsay's talent as both a writer and director inspired many excited conversations around Edinburgh.
A panel discussion about the current state of the British film industry raised some interesting points. Citing the influence and deep pockets of such companies as Film Four (formerly Channel Four Films), BBC films, and the BFI (British Film Institute), most agreed that today in Britain it is easier to get your film made than it ever has been. However, many worried that the standard of films could be depleted as a result. The panel agreed that for filmmakers, low-budget digital films will open up the marketplace and that directors should embrace the self-financed film. One panelist pointed to Mike Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas") as a British director who has the financing smarts to achieve his celluloid goals, particularly with his latest documentary "Hollywood Conversations."
Leading the list of new British films was Tim Roth's directorial debut "The War Zone." Roth received the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature in the EIFF securing his place as a talented new director. Roth joins an illustrious list of directors who have received the award, including last year's winner John Maybury for "Love is the Devil." Hardly considered a grandpa at age 38, Tim Roth is a bit older than his British colleagues. Not a gray hair or wrinkle can be found among the U.K.'s elite directors at the moment. Ben Hopkins ("Simon Magus") is just 30-years-old, Lynne Ramsay 29, Shane Meadows ("A Room for Romeo Brass") 26, Irishman Damien O'Donnell ("East is East") 32, and Clare Kilner ("Janice Beard: 45wpm") 34.
Even New Zealand youngster Robert Sarkies captured the twenty-something generation in "Scarfies," which had its first screening outside of New Zealand at the EIFF. Ranked number two in New Zealand's box office just behind "Eyes Wide Shut," the comedic film focuses on five college students sharing a house with a basement full of marijuana. The witty dialogue of the film redeems its over-familiar story. Check out this seduction scene which demonstrates some of the best one-liners:
Nicole: "Alex, you're a dark horse."
Alex: "Be my mare?"
In serious drama, on the other hand, Ben Hopkins made his feature debut with the beautiful "Simon Magus." The ever brilliant Noah Taylor, who has grown up onscreen in Australian indie favorites "The Year My Voice Broke," "Flirting" and "Shine," leads an outstanding cast including Stuart Townsend ("Shooting Fish"), Rutger Hauer, and Ian Holm. Boasting the most talked-about title sequence in the festival, Hopkins's stunning film reverberates with a visual language we haven't seen since Peter Weir's "Witness." American audiences may have a wait before they can see this gem, however, as no U.S. distributor has yet to buy "Simon Magus."
In the documentary section, Lionel Will's "Us Boys," a moving film of life on a farm in Northern Ireland, was a delight to watch. Clocking in at just one hour, this tale of two brothers living on their farm in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, left me wishing it was twice as long. Humorous and subtle in its treatment of aging Ernie and Stewart Morrow, the London-based Will has created a very engaging film.
Not all the limelight of the EIFF went to the Brits, however. "Taxi," penned and co-produced by Luc Besson ("La Femme Nikita," "The Fifth Element") charmed audiences with its strong comedic characters and kinetic energy. Satirizing the cops and robbers action story, "Taxi" follows a pizza delivery boy's rise to a notoriously speedy cab driver. The Edinburgh audience also loved Chris Smith's "American Movie." One Scotsman was overheard saying "those funny Yanks from the Midwest. Bloody grrreat film!" as he departed the theatre.
Audience members voted their number one favorite film at the festival, Wim Wenders' documentary "Buena Vista Social Club," followed by a couple of British films, "East is East" and "The Big Tease" with Cannes favorite Pedro Almodovar's "All About My Mother" coming in fourth place and Meadow's "A Room for Romeo Brass" rounding out the top five. "The Big Tease," currently headlining at the Edinburgh multiplex, stars Glaswegian comic Craig Ferguson as a Scottish hairdresser recently arrived in Los Angeles to compete in a hair-styling competition. The film has packed audiences in. After all, who can resist a Scottish movie with a cameo by David Hasselhoff, man of the ultimate coiffure?
[Louise Carroll attended UCLA and majored in English. She moved to London two years ago, and has spent the past year backpacking in Australia and freelance travel writing. She is currently back in London continuing her journalism career.]