The Edinburgh International Film Festival made no secret about the intentions of its 2010 edition. The festival's tagline, "What Will You Discover?," was plastered all around town, as were handmade signs that announced: "Lost: British Cinema, 1967-1979. Please Help Find It At The Edinburgh International Film Festival." Celebrating its 64th edition, the spirit of the festival was anything but old.
"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," Festival Artistic Director Hannah McGill had told indieWIRE just prior to the festival. "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."
Taking on the pressure that comes with trying to be a "discovery" festival is no small feat. With just a handful of festivals worldwide really capable of launching a film into a major run in the festival circuit or toward a pick-up for distribution, trying to join that club is generally quite risky. But after quite a few years of moving in that direction, there's definitely signs that Edinburgh's ambition is coming into fruition. And it's nice to see, as the film-loving Edinburgers that make up the festival's audience are certainly deserving of being the ones to discover.
Last year, the fest's audience award winner - Tomm Moore's "The Secret of Kells" - came out of nowhere to garner an Academy Award nomination for best animated feature. This year, two films seem at least likely to have welcomed lives on the festival circuit.
The first, like "Kells," is an animated feature film. Receiving a special mention from the festival's Michael Powell Jury (which recognizes innovation in British cinema), Edward and Rory McHenry's "Jackboots on Whitehall" was labeled by fest goers as a sort of British "Team America: World Police." Shot using animatronic puppets, the film presents an alternative history of World War II in which the Nazis seize London. At times brilliant satire, at others simply silly fun, "Jackboots" wholly makes impressive use of its innovative animation - especially considering it reportedly only cost $6,000,000 to make. It stands a good chance at becoming something of a cult hit, which should be aided by its all-star cast of British voice talents, from Ewan McGregor (as the film's protagonist) to Alan Cumming (as Hitler) to Timothy Spall (as Winston Churchill) to Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant and Stephen Merchant.
"Jackboots" lost the actual Michael Powell Award to a very different British film, writer-director Nick Whitfield's high-concept, "Eternal Sunshine"-y first feature, "Skeletons." The film follows Davis (Andrew Buckley) and Bennet (Will Adamsdale), a pair of men whose job is to literally clean out the skeletons in people's closets. Using a complicated mix of devices and psychic powers, David and Bennet actually have the ability to enter into the world of secrets behind folks' closet doors, reliving their best-kept moments. Eventually this leads them to a woman (played by Paprika Steen), who has lost her husband and wants Davis and Bennet's help in finding him. Though occasionally underdeveloped as whole, the film's fantastic performances (particularly Jason Isaacs, who plays Davis and Bennet's boss) and clever script more than make up for it. Like "Jackboots," "Skeletons" is sure to pop up at festival after festival for some time.
The jury that awarded "Skeletons" the fest's top prize said that the film "best exemplifies the spirit of Michael Powell in its original vision and dark humour.” Sir Patrick Stewart who presided over the jury which also included director Mike Hodges; film curator Laurence Kardish; director Rafi Pitts and actress Britt Ekland.
Other films in the running for the prize were: "brilliantlove" (Ashley Horner); "Cherry Tree Lane" (Paul Andrew Williams); "Huge" (Ben Miller); "The Kid" (Nick Moran); "Mr. Nice" (Bernard Rose); "Ollie Kepler's Expanding Purple World "(Viv Fongenie); "Pelican Blood" (Karl Golden); and "Soulboy" (Shimmy Marcus).
Other major winners at the awards - which were handed out by McGill and festival patrons Seamus McGarvey and Tilda Swinton on Saturday night included David Thewlis, who won the PPG Award for best performance in a British Feature Film, Ryan Piers Williams' "The Dry Land," which won the Projector.tv Award for Best International Feature, Laura Poitras' "The Oath," which won best documentary, and Aaron Schneider's "Get Low," which won the festival's audience award.
The complete list of winners is below.
The Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature Film, sponsored by the UK Film Council
Skeletons – Directed by Nick Whitfield
PPG Award for Best Performance in a British Feature Film
David Thewlis in Mr Nice
Projector.tv Best International Feature Award
The Dry Land, directed by Ryan Piers Williams
Moët New Directors Award
Gareth Edwards for "Monsters"
Best Feature Documentary Award
The Oath, directed by Laura Poitras
Standard Life Audience Award
Get Low, directed by Aaron Schneider
UK Film Council Award For Best British Short Film
Baby, directed by Daniel Mulloy
Best International Short Film Award sponsored by Steedman & Company
Rita, directed by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza
Scottish Short Documentary Award supported by Baillie Gifford
Maria's Way, directed by Anne Milne
McLaren Award for Best New British Animation in partnership with BBC Film Network
Stanley Pickle, directed by Victoria Mather
Short Film Nominee Edinburgh, for the European Film Awards 2010
Maria's Way, directed by Anne Milne