The oldest continually-running festival in the world began its 65th edition Wednesday in Edinburgh with a massive slate of festival hits and premieres.
The biggest buzz around the festival has been the participation of Tilda Swinton, her frequent collaborator Mark Cousins and former Edinburgh Film Festival director Lynda Myles and their subsequent departure. When the collaboration was announced in December, The Guardian called the decision a “dramatic move” that would “breathe new life into an event that faces big funding cuts.” The festival had announced that the three had decided on several changes, including cheaper tickets, a string of “discrepant thinkers” as guest curators, one-off events and “honesty days” when people could have paid what they feel a film is worth. It should come as no surprise that such changes don’t seem to have been entirely accepted. (Keep in mind that Swinton and Cousins have been radically reassessing the traditional nature of film festivals for a few years now, at one point enlisting a group of traveling cinephiles to pull a mobile cinema trailer through the summery hills of Scotland for a fortnight.)
When asked about the departure by the Hollywood Reporter, Swinton said her involvement had “continuously been misreported,” and that “Lynda Myles, Mark Cousins and I have not ‘parted company’ with plans for the EIFF, because we were never – in fact – officially engaged with them. We were certainly never paid or made responsible in any way to the festival’s organization.” So, take from that what you will.
The festival does, however, appear to have taken a less traditional, low-key route than in years past. There have been no red carpets and there is neither a star-studded jury nor prizes. There are, however, a number of retrospectives and special screenings, including a selections by guest curators Bela Tarr, Jim Jarmusch and Apichatpong Weerasethakul and several Derek Jarman films curated by Gus Van Sant.
The festival opened on Wednesday evening with the UK premiere of “The Guard,” an Irish crime comedy directed by John Michael McDonagh. The film is aiming to represent Irish film on an international level following its positive reception at Tribeca and Sundance earlier this year. However, according to The Scotsman, the low-profile premiere, which went off without an appearance by either of its stars – Don Cheadle or Brendan Gleeson – was quite a disaster. “The 1,900-seater Festival Theatre was only two thirds full and there was embarrassment for the organizers when the cinema screen, bought by the festival last year for the venue, broke down for a few minutes.”
All is not lost, as Edinburgh will see a handful of big names this year. Kim Cattrall is expected to attend the UK premiere of “Meet Monica Velour” and Ewan McGregor will be there in support of the European premiere his film “Perfect Sense.” The festival’s other major UK premiere is for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut “Jack Goes Boating,” though Hoffman is not expected to appear.
The festival, which lost a great deal of funding due to cutbacks in the arts which have had the UK film industry reeling for months now, doesn’t seem to have any regrets about its choices. Festival director James Mullighan told STV: “We’re neither able nor willing to compete with the red carpets and star wattage of Berlin, Cannes, Toronto and Venice. We are paying fresh mind to the historic and cultural reputation of our glorious home town.”