I was recently having a conversation with a filmmaker friend of mine. We were talking about three of the new film projects I’m currently working on. As we discussed each project in turn, there was something almost circular about our conversation: each time I mentioned my producers (different for each project), my friend would interject and ask me where I met them… and my answer was always the same; at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
With this in mind then, it’s perhaps no surprise that later this week I’ll be heading to Scotland for my fifth consecutive annual trip to the festival (I also attended in 2007, though not on a pass). Last year was my biggest trip yet, as my debut feature, Life Just Is, played in competition for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Film. This year, I’m going on a press pass. I suppose, in a way, it’s something of a comedown; though I don’t think I’m any less excited, and I’m certainly less nervous! When trying to determine what exactly it is about the festival which makes it so appealing, I stumbled upon the following train of thought: although a major international festival, it’s also incredibly intimate. It’s wide in scope, but friendly in approach. A few years ago I was at a party and I got talking to a filmmaker who was there with a short film. She’d just been speaking to Darren Aronofsky, having started talking to him without knowing who he was. Perhaps this story encapsulates something of Edinburgh’s appeal, a levelling of the playing field in which people come together to celebrate film and have a good time; regardless of their ‘star power’ (another anecdote involves watching Béla Tarr pick some potatoes out of a buffet a short while after seeing The Turin Horse!).
Another thing I like about Edinburgh, though, is that ‘star power’ seems lower on the agenda than it does at some other festivals I’ve attended. Some might argue (and, indeed, some have) that this isn’t a good thing. But it means that the festival can focus on what’s important: film! It also means it can flourish as a festival of discovery. For the last three years, my favourite films of the year have been things I’ve seen at Edinburgh and two of these (Demain? and The Days of Desire) are showing no signs at all of getting a UK release. As much as I’d love to run into, say, Angelina Jolie outside Edinburgh Filmhouse, seeing an obscure masterpiece from Hungary (such as The Days of Desire) somehow feels more important. And that’s not to say that Edinburgh eschews this sort of thing completely: for instance, one of the best contemporary American actresses, Greta Gerwig, will be attending with her new film Frances Ha, and more local talent, such as Karen Gillan and festival patron Robert Carlyle, will also be on hand to land some glamour to the proceedings.
This year I’m attempting to know as little as possible about the films I’m going to see (I’ve had a few things recommended to me, and beyond that I’m taking a rather freewheeling approach to my festival schedule), so picking things out in advance seems harder than usual. But German slacker comedy Oh Boy sounds right up my street, there’s a new Mark Cousins film to look forward to (A Story of Children and Film), and I’ve heard a lot of good things about Leviathan (a documentary about an Atlantic Ocean fishing trawler). Leviathan is up against 10 other films for this year’s Michael Powell Award, and among those ten films are For Those in Peril, a debut feature which recently played Cannes Critic Week, and Mister John, the new film by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor. The film I’m most excited about seeing, however, is Historic Centre, a film by four titans of contemporary art-house cinema. Portmanteau films are always uneven, and I’m sure that this will be no exception, but given that the directors involved are Pedro Costa, Manoel de Oliveira, Víctor Erice and Aki Kaurismäki, this will, at worst, be a fascinating failure. Also exciting and enticing are the festival’s two retrospectives, this year dedicated to Jean Grémillon and Richard Fleischer, and special strands spotlighting recent talent from Korea and Sweden (the Swedish strand also includes silent classic Sir Arne’s Treasure – which is indeed a treasure and surely not one to miss on the big screen).
The screenings, of course, are only one part of the excitement: there are also the industry events, which provide great opportunities for filmmakers to expand their knowledge and network of contacts; which perhaps brings me back to where I came in. It does seem like Edinburgh is a good place to network. It’s not only the welcoming atmosphere, but also the chance to meet people on a daily basis over the course of a week or so; a much better, and less forced, way to forge friendships and lasting connections than meeting someone once at a networking event and then never seeing them again outside of Facebook.
On a more personal note, I’ll be having several meetings regarding some of my current projects; two of which are set in Scotland. One of these is written by someone who contacted me after seeing Life Just Is at last year’s festival, while the other is being produced by Christine Cheung, and has been selected for this year’s Network scheme; a development and mentoring programme run by the festival. But more than anything, I’m going along to have a good time, watch some great films, catch up with some friends, and hopefully make some new ones.
To put it another way: going to Edinburgh feels like going home. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty great thing to be able to say about a major international festival.