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by Peter Knegt
June 24, 2010 3:02 AM
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Talking Independent in Edinburgh: Directors Speak Out

The scene at the 2010 Edinburgh International Film Festival. Photo by Peter Knegt.

The "international indie" was on the topic at the Edinburgh International Film Festival yesterday, with Screen International's Mike Goodridge moderating a talk with two Edinburgh International Film Festival filmmakers, "Obselidia"'s Diane Bell and "Postale"'s Josh Hyde. The filmmakers discussed their work and the challenges that have come with both making the films, and getting them out there. It was a fitting discussion amidst a festival that has clearly made considerable strides in recent years to celebrate smaller, undiscovered films. Last week, the festival's Artistic Director, Hannah McGill had said in an interview with indieWIRE that "distributors - whether they're small, medium or large - are just picking up less and less stuff. 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."

While Bell's "Obselidia" has been a fixture on the U.S. festival circuit since its Sundance premiere this past January (though it is having its international premiere here in Edinburgh), Hyde's "Postales," on the other hand, has yet to be discovered. The narrative film following two street kids in Peru, the film is set to have its world premiere in Edinburgh this Friday.

Hyde said that he and his "Postales" team have "discovered a new place where cinema can live" in Edinburgh. "You see great mainstream movies, but you also see the kind of movies we like to make," he said.

Hyde warned, though, that he is trying to be very conscious of what a film festival should mean to a filmmaker, particularly after Goodridge noted that the majority of first-time filmmakers don't end up making a second film.

"You have to let your momentum continue, and not make the film festival the end all be all, but a launching pad," he said. "Where you see who your audience is and meet contacts... We'll be on this festival circuit for a year and a half, two years. And you convince yourself you're a great filmmaker, but you're not to doing any writing. But at the end of the day, you're only as good as your last film... and your next film."

First-time filmmaker Bell disclosed her own thoughts on the film festival experience, specifically when "Obsedelia" premiered in Sundance.

"By some miracle we got into competition, which was incredible," she said. "I still don't really know how we got there... And Sundance is a trip. It was one of the most insane experiences of my life. I mean, you screen in a theater of 1,300 people. To sell that out and see Robert Redford looking up at you from the audience is insane. But there's good sides and bad sides. I'm a writer, so I usually sit alone in my room writing. But then I have to get up in front of all these people and explain my film. This was my first film, and I've never done that before."

Bell also shared a horror story about doing a Google of her film the day after it premiered in Sundance.

"I found a review on a blog that called it 'a compendium of indie cliches,'" she said, laughing. "That blog is tattooed on my heart forever."

Bell's salvation came at a brunch specifically for directors, where she chatted with fellow Sundance filmmakers who told her not to let herself be bothered by it.

"Screw it," she recalled one saying. "That's not why you made your movie."

Bell said festivals like Edinburgh provide a nice alternative to the "insanity" of Sundance. "You come here and it's a calmer feeling and it's more about the films and not some insane goldfish pond," she laughed.

Both "Postales" and "Obsedelia" were made on ultra low-budgets, and Hyde and Bell shared stories about how they managed to get from square one to where they are now.

"Postales" came as a result of Hyde making a documentary about Peruvian street kids years ago, and "falling in love with the subjects" of that film. He decided to make a narrative feature with similar characters, piecing together financing "from small financiers, clearing off credit cards, even mortgaging things."

"If you can't convince someone with a story to open up their wallet, you probably shouldn't make a movie," he said. Bell meanwhile, had decided to take advantage of the writer's strike and just "write something for herself." "I didn't think it would ever become a movie," she recalled. But upon finishing the script, she had a change of heart, and attempted to make a budget. "I couldn't do it," she said. "So I actually put an ad on Craigslist for someone that could make a budget for a small movie but they wouldn't get paid. And I got 50 responses!"

Bell also found two people who eventually became her producers off the website, and her editor, a 25-year old from Arkansas who had never edited a film before. Bell and her editor had something in common as Bell had never actually directed anything before - not even a short. But she recalled that despite that, convincing people to let her do it wasn't hard.

"They could feel how passionate I was about it," she said. "So I managed to convince two of the actors, the DP, and the producers to go out to Death Valley with me to make tests. And from that I made a trailer, and once they saw that, we had the money within two months."

Screening the film in Edinburgh marks a homecoming of sorts for Bell, who was born and went to university here.

"I love it," she said of being here. "Except for the fact that my family is all crazy. And it was quite scary.. So many people had showed up I hadn't seen in like ten years. I mean, I went to this festival every year when I was a student. And the one thing I don't like is that you need to get your badge scanned to get into press and industry screenings. You used to be able to just sign in as press, and I would always fake it... That's how I saw a Robert Bresson retrospective that really changed my life."

The Edinburgh International Film Festival continues through this Sunday.

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