FESTIVALS: Edinburgh's Last Resort; UK Films Ready for Resurgence, but When?
by Julie La'Bassiere
(indieWIRE/ 08.31.01) -- While last year's Edinburgh International Film Festival had a number of standout international films ("Amores Perros," "The King is Alive," "George Washington," "In the Mood for Love," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?") the biggest talk was about what seemed to be a fast growing resurgence of quality British cinema. With the great critical acclaim that films like Damien O'Donnell's "East is East," Paul Pawlikowski's "The Last Resort," Jamie Thraves' "The Low Down," and Lynne Ramsay's "Ratcatcher," received and the fierce momentum brought on by the Film Council (the new lottery funded British film industry conglomerate), excitement abounded. What would British filmmakers come up with now that resources were suddenly going to be available to them? Unfortunately, that feeling of hope and excitement was decidedly more subdued and slightly bittersweet at the 55th Edinburgh International Film Festival (August 12th-26th).
As Variety recently reported, British production is now essentially at a standstill, with a number of international films by John Irvin, Bruce Beresford, Michael Cristofer and John Boorman having been stalled in the midst of pre-production. The Film Council, initially seen by many as the solution to most, if not all, of the British film industry's problems, has seemingly bitten off more than it can chew and is currently in the midst of allegations of paying it's staff too well. And the only "hit" that the industry has seen this year is Sharon Maguire's "Bridget Jones Diary." The industry is in a bit of a dither (as the Brits would say) and to top it all off, this is the last year for Edinburgh Artistic Director Lizzie Francke who, with great taste and perseverance, has guided the Edinburgh Festival (with its specialized Film UK section) as one of the premier showcases for British films in Europe. In October, The Screening Room in New York will present a "best of" showcase of British films from her tenure at Edinburgh.
Yet with all of the slight doom and gloom of the state of the industry, the festival kicked off with the international premiere of Jean Pierre Jeunet's wonderfully whimsical and vibrant "Amelie," which won the festivals' audience award. A departure in theme and mood from Jeunet's previous films ("Delicatessen," "City of Lost Children," "Alien Resurrection"), the film is a visionary force of nature whose lead, Audrey Tautou, is destined for international stardom.
FilmFour, the principal sponsor of the festival for the third year in a row, presented a diverse slate of British films that included three world premieres. "Lucky Break" from "The Full Monty" director Peter Cattaneo, starring James Nesbitt ("Waking Ned Devine") and Olivia Williams ("Rushmore") is a slightly misguided romantic comedy about prisoners who stage a musical (with hilarious lyrics written by Stephen Fry). Asif Kapadia's feature debut, "The Warrior," is a brilliant epic tale of honor, loyalty and redemption that takes your breath away with its sheer scope and beauty. Lastly, there was Andrew Kotting's "This Filthy Earth," an impressive and visually stunning interpretation of Emile Zola's classic novel "La Terre." Other FilmFour fare included Joel Hopkin's IFC release "Jump Tomorrow;" Cannes festival crowd pleaser John McKay's "The Crush" starring Imelda Staunton, Andie Macdowell and Anna Chancellor (reunited from "Four Weddings and a Funeral") and Dom Rotheroe's "My Brother Tom," a raw and involving film about obsessive love and the destruction it can lead to.
Other British films screened at the festival included acclaimed Prada fashion photographer Glen Luchford's "From Here to Where," an odd bit of business about an eccentric who has lived in the DeGaulle airport for the last eleven years; Phillipa Cousins' "Happy Now," a horribly predictable Welsh thriller starring Ioan Gruffudd and Paddy Considine; "My Son, the Fanatic" director Udayan Prassad's "Gabriel and Me," a thoroughly disappointing film written by Lee Hall ("Billy Elliott") and starring Scottish comedian Billy Connolly about a boy who makes an application to become an angel to the archangel Gabriel; and Harry Bradbeer's "As the Beast Sleeps" a rather intelligent television movie made by the BBC, set in Belfast about two Loyalists friends torn apart by the sweeping political changes happening around them.
Though highly anticipated as the "films to watch," "Trainspotting" director Danny Boyle's made for television DV films, "Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise" and "Strumpet" were disappointing. Starring the incomparable Timothy Spall and Christopher Eccleston, respectively, and both depicting a kind of metaphysical dark side of modern day Britain, both of the films' biggest flaws is their running times. Both average about 70 minutes and both feel about 30 minutes too long.
In addition to "This Filthy Earth," "My Brother, Tom," and "The Warrior" films that injected some hope and potential for the British film industry included: Neil Hunter and Tom Hunsiger's "The Lawless Heart," the story of three men who desperately attempt to take their lives in hand following the death of a friend and told successfully in a multi-layered narrative structure, and Kenny Glenan's "Gas Attack," a shockingly close to the vest depiction of the lives of asylum seekers in Glasgow. Banned as of this writing from being screened in Glasgow because of the story's close resemblance to the Scottish government's inept handling of the recent foot and mouth epidemic, the film won the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature.
This year's festival had a rather distinguished crop of American films which included a number of films from Sundance 2001: John Cameron Mitchell's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," Michael Cuesta's "L.I.E.," Scott McGehee and David Siegel's "The Deep End," Henry Bean's "The Believer," DeMane Davis and Khari Streeter's "Lift," Kirby Dick's "Chain Camera," Kate Davis' "Southern Comfort"; Cannes favorites the Coen Brothers' "The Man Who Wasn't There," Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming's "The Anniversary Party" and Roman Coppola's "CQ"; and the UK premieres of Terry Zwigoff's "Ghost World," Jesse Peretz's "The Chateau" and Sean Penn's "The Pledge." Penn was one of the subjects of Edinburgh's "Reel Life" section of in-person conversations with filmmakers.
Of the foreign language films that screened at this year's festival perhaps the best and most talked about was 2001 Cannes Film Festival Camera D'Or winner for Best First Feature, Zacharias Kunuk's "Atanarjuat The Fast Runner." The first film ever written in the Inuit language, the film is an absolute marvel of epic and thrilling proportions. Audiences were completely floored by it.
Unlike the fanciful opening night feature, Lizzie Francke chose to close the 55th festival on a somber note with Mike Nichol's "Wit," a harrowing and wickedly humorous journey of a woman faced with her own mortality starring and co-written by Emma Thompson.
In her introduction to the festival catalog, Francke calls the festival "a chance to reflect on all the pleasures and pains of existence -- the raw way of how it is along with sublime fantasies of what it could be." It's a feat she has succeeded in achieving. One hopes that the future of the British film industry looks as promising.
[Julie La'Bassiere is the former film programmer for IFP/West who, having been born in the UK, always keeps an eye open on the UK film industry. She currently resides in New York City.]