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Edinburgh Fest Readies for “Flying Scotsman”; Artistic Director Shane Danielsen Speaks Up

Edinburgh Fest Readies for "Flying Scotsman"; Artistic Director Shane Danielsen Speaks Up

The world premiere of Douglas Mackinnon‘s “The Flying Scotsman” will open the Edinburgh International Film Festival Monday, ushering in the 60th edition of the event (August 14 – 27), one of the world’s longest running film festivals. This year’s line up includes 163 films from 37 countries, with 34 designated as world or international debuts and 70 screening as U.K. premieres. In celebration of this year’s landmark edition, the festival has been extended by two days. Academy Award-winner Sir Sean Connery will take centerstage at this year’s event, serving as the festival’s “Patron” August 16 – 26. Connery will host a special 60th Birthday Party for the fest on Saturday, August 19th and is subject of the BAFTA Scotland Interview on August 25th. The Edinburgh fest’s Artistic Director Shane Danielsen also shared with indieWIRE his thoughts on this year’s event, his five year tenure, and why it’s time to bow out.

Starring Johnny Lee Miller (“Trainspotting“), Billy Boyd (“The Lord of the Rings“), Brian Cox (“X-Men 2: X-Men United“) and Laura Fraser (“Sixteen Years of Alcohol“), “The Flying Scotsman” is the true story of celebrated Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree, a former world champion who broke the world one-hour record on a bike of his own design, made partly out of sections of a washing machine. The film follows his life’s victories as well as his battles with mental health problems.

Other world premieres slated for this year include: James Marquand’s “Dead Man’s Cards“; Andrew Piddington’s “The Killing of John Lennon“; Richard Laxton’s “Life and Lyrics“; Paul Andrew Williams’ “London to Brighton“; Col Spector’s “Someone Else“; Oliver Rihs’ “Black Sheep“; Simone Van Dusseldorp’s “Deep“; Guy Moshe’s “Holly“; and Xiaolu Guo’s “How is Your Fish Today.”

Extra attention will be paid to documentaries at this year’s festival with 23 documentary films being screened in competition. EIFF began its life in 1947 as a documentary-based Festival, established in the wake of World War II.

Edinburgh’s “Reel Life” interview series will be a festival highlight this year. Academy Award-winners Steven Soderbergh and Charlize Theron will participate in the on-stage talks in addition to Oscar-nominees Sigourney Weaver, Arthur Penn as well as BAFTA-winner Iain Smith, Brian De Palma and director Kevin Smith, whose latest, “Clerks II” will be among the nine gala presentations screening this year.

Other galas include: Terry Zwigoff’s “Art School Confidential“; Cory Edwards’ “Hoodwinked“; Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ “Little Miss Sunshine“; Patrick Stettner’s “The Night Listener“; Billy Kent’s “The Oh in Ohio“; Hilary Brougher’s “Stephanie Daley“; and Oren Rudavsky’s “The Treatment.” The British Gala line-up includes twelve films: “Brothers of the Head“; “Cargo“; “Colour Me Kubrick“; “Dead Man’s Cards“; “Driving Lessons“; “The Killing of John Lennon”; “Life and Lyrics“; “Lives of the Saints“; “London to Brighton“; “Shoot the Messenger“; “Snow Cake“; and “Someone Else“.

Closing the event is Carol Reed‘s classic “Odd Man Out,” a British film noir starring James Mason as Johnny McQueen, an IRA chieftain trying to escape from the police after an ill-advised bank robbery meant to replenish Republican coffers.

Edinburgh International Film Festival Artistic Director Shane Danielsen. Image courtesy of the festival.

In addition to this year being Edinburgh’s 60th anniversary, it is also the final year for its ubiquitous Artistic Director, Shane Danielsen. Danielsen shared with indieWIRE via email his thoughts about the festival’s place at age 60, why he thinks five years as a festival head is long enough, and what comes next…

How has the festival evolved during your tenure as Artistic Director?

I don’t know; that’s for the audience to decide. My intention was simply to retain the curatorial integrity of the event, and to refine its place in the broader scheme of things, festival-wise: to address what seemed to me to be the salient questions for an event like this one: What does it do? Who should it serve? What makes it different? What can be improved? As festivals become more and more ubiquitous, they have also become increasingly faceless, corporate and mundane. And the behemoths (Cannes, Venice, Berlin – now Rome?) skew the whole dialectic. It becomes a couple of titans and an awful lot of dwarfs, expected by the press.

Edinburgh, whatever its deficiencies of funding, still at least retains a sense of discovery and possibility. And for this reason, I’ve tried to imprint my personality upon it, as my predecessors did – in part because Edinburgh demands it, because it’s always been like that, and also because I also I think that’s the duty of any Artistic Director who’s accepting a paycheck. You can’t do these things by commitee and consensus: you do it by having, for good or ill, some kind of personal vision, and putting it into action. But whether I’ve succeeded or not, is for others to say. I personally think not.

What are some highlights in this year’s 60th edition that you’re looking forward to?

The “They Might Be Giants: Other Voices From The New American Cinema” retrospective, which I hope goes some little way to altering people’s perception of that period, and the people who made it. I want to challenge that canonical, heiarchical view of film history, the mindset that condenses everything to Scorsese and Coppola and Altman on the side of the angels, and Spielberg and Lucas as the good-kids-gone-bad. As I’ve written in the catalogue essay, it wasn’t simply a revolution of the few, but a growing sense of entitlement among the many – a movement forged in the crucible of a particular historical moment in American society, politics and culture. So it’s twenty-four films, from twenty-four filmmakers who’ve been consigned somewhat to the margins, or whose work has not gained the wider acclaim it should.

And since I also think we’re currently in the middle of another, similar period (courtesy of filmmakers like Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, Steven Soderberg, David Fincher and PT Anderson and so on), it’s of added significance. As George C. Scott says in the film “They Might Be Giants“: “Look about you. This is paradise. It’s hard to find, I, I’ll grant you, but it is here. Under our feet, beneath the surface, all around us is everything we want. The earth is shining under the soot!”

Why did you decide this is the time to move on, and do you have any insight as to your future plans that you can share?

I think that five years is an ideal time: long enough to put your stamp upon the festival, but not so long that you – or it – become stale. I made a point of saying I’d do five years when I took the gig in 2001, and I actually believe that there should be a compulsory five-year limit on these things – it should be written into the contract. Otherwise you become one of these desperate old men (and they are invariably men), clinging on forever to something which, frankly, would be better off without them: renewed, regenerated and revitalised. As Edinburgh now will be, under Hannah McGill. And rightly so.

(It may not surprise you, however, to learn that this is not a popular view among my peers: during a dinner in Cannes last year, sitting at a table of other film festival directors, when I tried gently to outline this point-of-view they stared at me with the expression akin to Cardinal Bellarmine listening to Galileo propose the heliocentric cosmos.)

As for my future plans, I’m travelling for the rest of the year – Venice, Toronto, Havana and Moscow – before returning to Sydney to spend the summer working on a friend’s marina on Middle Harbour. And next year I’m moving to Berlin, which seems to me the most exciting city in Europe right now, and where I can be left alone, in a beautiful apartment in Prenzlauer Berg or Friedrichshain, to read.

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