Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Edinburgh International Film Festival, Part I

In my first proper post in what feels like ages, here is a detailed account of my trip to the Edinburgh International Film Festival. As my film Hungerford: Symphony of a London Bridge was screening at the festival, I was given a filmmaker’s pass which allowed me access to industry screenings, events and delegate facilities. I’ve attended EIFF before as a casual civilian spectator and attending as a filmmaker is obviously a very different (and much superior) experience. If there are any filmmakers reading this, I have to say that, as a whole, EIFF is a fantastic festival to visit as a delegate and, if you don’t have anything showing, it would be well worth forking out the cash for a pass. Anyway, enough of the waffle...

Please note that due to length I’ve split this over three posts. Part II is here, and Part III is here.

Day 1: Saturday 20th June
After arriving in Edinburgh and checking into my hostel, I headed straight to the delegate centre, where I was given my pass and several booklets containing various pieces of information. It was all a bit overwhelming in some senses, but these booklets (especially the Who’s Who guide) were well worth taking the time to look through and familiarise myself with – without them it would have been impossible to make the most of the festival. As it happens, though, I didn’t have time to read them all before my first industry event started: the daily Hair of the Dog Networking event in the Delegate centre bar. We all know what networking events are like, so I’ll skip the details, but this first night was especially busy, and I met some great people even then.

The Delegate Centre

Next up, after grabbing a quick pizza, was my first screening: the international premiere of Moon. Now, I have to admit I was a bit clueless about a couple of things when I went to see this film: 1) I didn’t realise that it was a British film, and 2) I didn’t know that Duncan Jones was David Bowie’s son. I’m not outlining these facts because I think they’re necessarily important for enjoyment of the film, but they somehow seem like things one needs to know when talking about it. I must say that it’s good to see a small British film of this type; it’s atypical of the type of films usually made over here, and it’s atypical in a good way. Made on a modest budget of 2.5 million, it also proves that even engaging sci-fi doesn’t require the bloated budgets that Hollywood seems intent on pushing into films which ultimately fail on both a financial and an artistic level. I think that a lot of mainstream filmmakers could learn a thing or two from Jones and his crew.

In the Q/A that followed the screening, Jones talked about his desire to create a piece of intelligent sci-fi, stating that he wanted to do this for the simple reason that it’s the type of film that he would be interested in seeing. The film was also an attempt to emulate the ‘golden era’ of 70s sci-fi. For the most part, I think the film works well. It’s engaging and interesting, and offers an intelligent approach to themes of loneliness, isolation and long distance relationships. Personally, I think that the film could have been a little slower burning in getting going, but that says more about my personal tastes than the film itself. The film reminded me in places of Solaris, and I have to admit that, for me, this is where the film falls down slightly: it’s a very intelligent, very well made film, but what it’s not is a profound existential meditation to rival the likes of either of the film versions of
Stanislaw Lem’s novel. I should probably add that the film won the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature Film, and also say that Jones is planning to make another film set in the same universe. On the strength of Moon, it will certainly be a film worth seeing.

After leaving the Moon screening, it was back to more networking, this time at the Filmhouse. When I got there it was completely packed, and assuming that it would be like this every night I left early in order to finish looking through all the information that I had been given when I arrived. As it happens, it was the busiest night of the festival and, rumour has it, the busiest night at the Filmhouse bar in seven years...moral of the story: never leave a networking event early – it might be the best chance you get to meet interesting people!

Day 2: Sunday 21st June
Up bright and early in order to get to the Filmhouse for 08:30. The way the industry pass works is that you get into all of the industry screenings for free just with the pass, but if you want to get into the public screenings you need to pick up tickets from the Filmhouse ticket office. It’s worth stating that the festival only allocates a limited number of tickets to selected public screenings/events for delegates. This was something of a bone of contention for some of the delegates that I spoke to – it seems that people are loath to pay for tickets once they’ve paid for a pass. In some ways I guess they’re quite right, but as my pass was free, I didn’t feel like complaining much...

Having secured my public tickets for the day, I went into the 09:00 industry screening of International Animation 2. As always with programmes of shorts, the quality was mixed. There was certainly some interesting work in there. From the first couple of films (
The Man and the Woman and Nicola & Guillemette) I was worried that sentimentality was going to be the running theme, though the dark finale to La Nostalgia del Sr. Alambre proved that this was far from the case. For me, the real standout film was the Swedish animation Lögner. Described as ‘Three perfectly true stories about lying’, the film was a powerful and engrossing animated documentary.

Straight after this (11.15) was the industry screening of Black Box Shorts 1, which contained my own film, Hungerford: Symphony of a London Bridge. Like all but one of the industry screenings I attended, the screening wasn’t particularly well attended, which I found a little disappointing. The films were centred on the theme of ‘Space and Place’, but the programme contained an impressive and eclectic mix of films. For me, and I believe for the person I attended the screening with, the stand out film was Dropping Furniture, though I wonder if that’s because it was also the most accessible and in some ways ‘traditional’ of the films. For me the film was about the futility and devastation of war, but my friend had his own opinion. It’s certainly a film to inspire debate and, in its own way, it was also rather captivating.

At 13:00 I jumped into the public screening of
The Raven. The film was utterly ridiculous, but very fun. I hadn’t realised it was going to be a comedy, but with a cast that includes Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and a young Jack Nicholson it was never going to be anything less than a riot to watch.

Next up (15:00) was the one full industry screening I attended:
Shane Meadows’ mockumentary Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee. It’s a very funny film, but also very light and disposable.

After that I finally had some time to grab some food before heading back to the delegate centre for more Hair of the Dog Networking, before then going back to the FIlmhouse for the UK Premiere of
Denis Côté’s All That She Wants. All That She Wants is a very hard film to write about, because in some ways it’s a challenging film, though perhaps not for the right reasons. I liked the film a lot and it’s certainly (from a photographic point of view) one of the most beautiful films I saw at the festival. But it wasn’t what I was expecting: it was somehow much simpler, and somehow much more narrative based than both the festival brochure and Côté himself would have one believe. In the Q/A that followed the screening Côté talked about how he was deliberately offering challenges to the audience by placing ellipses in the narrative. He explained how he set the film entirely in the present time: ‘the day after the storm’. Something has happened in the backstory of the characters, but we’re never told what. Côté joked that he made the film in black and white because the ‘people don’t deserve to be in colour’, before explaining that he felt that the black and white helped convey the film’s sense of ‘no man’s land’ territory. For him, the film was a play on genre, especially on the Western, and he cast the film based solely on the faces of the actors and their ‘Western’ looks. When talking about the pacing of the film, Côté stated that ‘I wanted something very paralysed’, a ‘hypnotic bubble’. The film contains many long and stunning takes and there is no music until a song at the very end. The song was included as, for Côté, the ‘ending is super melodrama, it’s grotesque’. He therefore used the ‘super cheesy’ music to play up these aspects.

While all of this makes the film sound challenging in an exciting way, what actually makes the film challenging is far less interesting: it’s not the ellipses in the narrative, the slow pace, the black and white photography or the lack of music, but instead the fact that, for all of these factors, it’s such an easy film. As a spectator I didn’t feel like I was being pushed, but more that I was watching a rather simple narrative wrapped up in a beautiful, arthouse style. So the challenge, for me at least, was trying to work out where this leaves the film. Style over substance perhaps? Or perhaps even style as substance? Some I spoke to felt that it made the film pretentious. I don’t think I would agree with that, though I can certainly understand it. It was disappointing in some respects that the film failed to offer a real, genuinely philosophical challenge to its viewers, but I don’t want to come across as too negative about the film. Though it might be little more than a simple story told in a beautiful way, it was one of the most memorable and enjoyable films that I saw at the festival, and I would strongly recommend it. I look forward to seeing it again to see if it contains any further layers that I missed on the initial viewing, but even if it doesn’t it still remains a powerful and engrossing film.

The screening was, of course, followed by more networking into the early hours...

Click here to read Part II of this three part post.

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