As long-term readers of DN will know, my relationship with the Edinburgh International Film Festival stretches back to 2009, when my short film Hungerford: Symphony of a London Bridge was selected to play in their experimental strand, Black Box. Having fallen instantly in love with the festival, I’ve attended every year since bar one, either to screen another of my films or to write about the festival for this very website. Last year was the premiere of my second feature, London Symphony, meaning that my trip was very focused on filmmaking, rather than film watching (the festival remains the best place in the UK for filmmakers to meet people and make connections). This year, however, I’m back to watching and looking forward to diving in head first. I’ll be writing again after the festival to report back on what I see, but in the meantime here’s a little preview of what’s caught my eye so far…
As I’ve stated before, EIFF offers a unique opportunity to see many films which will sadly remain undistributed in the UK – for instance, last year’s highlight, 1945 (which was not only the best film at the festival but also one of the best films of the last decade), still remains unreleased in the UK. This year, the slate of films currently without UK distributors offers some tantalising titles, including:
Waru, consisting of eight single-take short films by female Māori directors which together present multiple viewpoints on the death and funeral rites of a young Māori boy.
Pig Film, an experimental look at the future of film, which is described in the programme as a “genre-bending mystery with a triumphant twist”.
The Great Buddha+, a wry Taiwanese comedy about a security guard at a bronze statue factory who becomes embroiled in the shady world of his boss’ dark secrets after watching him through the dash cam of his car.
An Elephant Sitting Still, a 234 minute Chinese epic which looks at a day in the life of four lonely characters who dream of escape. The debut film from Chinese novelist Bo Hu, who tragically committed suicide at the end of last year, An Elephant Sitting Still has drawn much acclaim from its international festival screenings and ranks as my most anticipated film at this year’s festival.
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches, a black and white period tale of two siblings in a run-down mansion, which sounds like a classical gothic piece in a Jack Clayton-mould.
Hochelaga, Land of Souls, a multi-layered ‘historical fantasia’ looking at three centuries of Quebecois history, including a 17th century romance and the rebellions of 1837.
WALL, a multimedia presentation of a David Hare monologue about ‘the history of the Israeli separation barrier and the Middle East conflict.’
Fake Tattoos, about a relationship between two punks which develops out of a one-night stand (shades of Medicine for Melancholy, perhaps?).
The last four films are all from the festival’s Focus on Canada strand, which looks set to be one of this year’s most intriguing sections. Also promising is the retrospective strand Time of the Signs, conceived and curated by Niall Greig Fulton. Divided into three further sub-strands, Time of the Signs celebrates American filmmaking from 1975-90, focusing specifically on pioneering female directors, representations of the media in mainstream American cinema, and influential horror films produced in the first half of the eighties.
Of course, alongside all this, the festival also contains plenty of star-led vehicles which are destined to keep the red carpet busy. Included this year are:
Ideal Home, which stars Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd as a middle-aged gay couple who find themselves thrown unwittingly into parenthood.
Papillon, which features Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek in a fresh take on Henri Charrière’s French penal colony novel.
Terminal, a stylish neon-drenched noir produced by and starring Margot Robbie (and also featuring Simon Pegg, Max Irons, Dexter Fletcher and Mike Myers).
Mary Shelley, which stars Elle Fanning as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and explores Godwin’s relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth), along with the events surrounding the creation of Frankenstein.
The Secret of Marrowbone, an atmospheric haunted-house chiller starring George MacKay and directed by Sergio G. Sánchez, who previously mastered the genre as screenwriter of The Orphanage.
Unicorn Store, the quirky directorial debut from Brie Larson, in which Larson stars as a unicorn-obsessed art student offered the chance to fulfil her dreams by a flamboyant salesman played by Samuel L. Jackson.
The Parting Glass, about three siblings coping with the death of their youngest sister, which reunites the True Blood trinity of Stephen Moyer, Anna Paquin and Denis O’Hare (here, Moyer directs, while O’Hare writes and stars alongside Paquin, who also produces). The ensemble cast also features Melissa Leo, Cynthia Nixon, Rhys Ifans and Ed Asner.
Two for Joy, the debut feature of music video Director Tom Beard, which features Samantha Morton, Billie Piper, Emilia Jones and Daniel Mays in a drama about a family crisis triggered by a troubled mother (played by Morton).
Although international screenings of some of these star vehicles have received mixed reviews, EIFF offers UK audiences the first chance to make up their own minds and, for a public facing festival, the value in this shouldn’t be underestimated. Also, to bring things full circle, the last three are said to be currently without UK distribution and, although that will likely change given the cast lists, the chance to see these films should be seized while it’s there – as the case of 1945 proves, plenty of great films fall through the cracks of UK distribution.
I’ll write again later this month to report back on which films lived up to expectations, but it’s certainly looking like it’ll be another fantastic year.