10 Reasons why the 2011 Edinburgh International Film Festival is looking pretty damned good
1. No Red Carpets
This is no great loss. I know I could be guilty of hypocrisy here, since I once swanned down the red carpet for the EIFF premiere of ‘Young Adam’, arm in arm with Sally Child, the former lover of Alexander Trocchi. And I smuggled half of Leith into the exclusive VIP party on the shore. But that aside the EIFF will flourish without celebs and assorted freeloaders like me and my mates quaffing free champagne at glitzy bashes. It’s about the films, stupid.
2. Big Outdoor Screens
The giant TV screen at Festival Square is an Orwellian monstrosity pumping out BBC dross. That’s a given. But it could perk up a bit this month. And a big screen in St Andrews Square? Showing movies to punters lolling around on the grassy knolls? Fantastic! It says in the EIFF programme that no alcohol may be taken into the square. However, surprisingly, it doesn’t mention joints. (Does that mean they’ve been legalised when I wasn’t looking?) Weather permitting this could be a winner.
3. Guest Curator: Bela Tarr
We all claim to have a favourite film of all time. Mine is Hungarian auteur, Bela Tarr’s seven hour epic, Satantango. It IS the greatest work of cinematic art ever made. The long (eight minutes) single take of a herd of cows slowly walking through mud and rain is cinema’s opening shot par excellence. Seriously. This is my opinion anyway which is unlikely to change between writing and publishing this article. It is a revelation to know that the great Bela Tarr himself has agreed to curate some films for this year’s Festival. Chances are they’ll all be well worth seeing.
4. Animation Shorts
As anyone who has been to the monthly Neu! Reekie! events in Edinburgh will have discovered I’m an animation junkie. Whether its Scotland’s own émigré pioneer Norman McLaren; or the George Best of the animation world, Ryan Larkin; or the avante garde post-Soviet genius of Priit Pärn or Igor Kovalykov, I’m hooked. Animation shorts are the cinematic equivalent of poetry; where obsessed creatives produce labours of love that have little commercial value. The EIFF has scheduled four themed seventy minute screenings of animation shorts on consecutive nights: Extremes, Interactions, Mythologies and Realities.
5. Margaret Tait’s Edinburgh Shorts
Orcadian experimental film-maker Margaret Tait is gradually gaining the recognition she deserves. Her films are meditative, lovingly textured, without narration, and capture something that is difficult to describe in words. Her best known Edinburgh short is the one where Hugh MacDiarmid playfully runs along a wall in Edinburgh’s New Town. It’s included in the screening.
7. Guest Curator Alan Warner.
I’ve known Alan for a while, publishing some of his early work in the heady days of Rebel Inc. Over the years he’s turned me on to a good few poets, novels and films that I hadn’t heard of. Sadegh Hedayat’s ‘The Blind Owl’ – which I subsequently published as a Rebel Inc Classic – was a Warner recommendation. Never once has he given me a bum steer. Alan’s knowledge of film is profound and encyclopaedic. He has a deep love for the other: culture that is outwith the dominant narrative of English-language and Boys Own. Alan has selected a number of films for the EIFF, mainly by 60s and 70s cult director Jerzy Skolimowski. I’d bet my signed first edition of Morvern Callar that they’re all must see movies that you might otherwise have overlooked.
7. Documentaries 1 Biopics 0
A third of all the films screened at this year’s EIFF are documentaries. Good. The rise of big screen documentaries has been THE cinema story of the last decade. This reflects the democratisation of cinema through new digital technology, as well as a widespread and growing thirst for ideas. Biopics are the safe glossy end of the infotainment spectrum. No matter how slickly they are made, no matter how much the leading actors “look just like the real people”, biopics tend to be either dubious histories, storytelling by rote, or just plain old crap. Money for old rope. For instance, who in their right mind would want to watch the pretentious drivel that is ‘Howl’ rather than a proper documentary on poet Allen Ginsberg? I know nothing about South African singer/activist Miriam Makeba, nor about dance choreographer Tanya Liedtke, nor about music teacher Karen Carey, but if three documentaries makers cared enough to tell their stories then the chances are they’ll be interesting stories. New documentaries on the more famous Jane Goodall, Bob Marley and Bobby Fisher could be interesting too.
8. The Perverts Guide To The Cinema
The idea that a belligerent argumentative revolutionary leftist could make the finest documentary on The History of Cinema seems unlikely at first glance. But the charismatic Slavoj Zizek has succeeded (pipping at the winning post Martin Scorcese’s epic tour-de-forces on the history of American and Italian cinema). Zizek applies his forensic psychologically-driven intellect to gift us a wonderfully individualistic critique of some of international cinema’s classics, mainstream or otherwise. Zizek is a provocateur. You need to keep your critical wits about you when listening to anything he says but this is what makes it so fun. Warning: this WILL change the way you look at some of your favourite movies.
9. Talk Talk
What cinema obsessives love as much as the films themselves are the arguments and debates in the café bar afterwards. Movies are what the cartoon-philosopher/new media evangelist Hugh MacLeod calls “social objects”. They’re for sharing. This year’s EIFF has organised a diverse array of spaces where “social objects” can be passed around like a cold sore at a blind orgy. There’s too many too even begin to list here, suffice to note that organisations as diverse as Film Nation: Shorts, Vimeo and iMDB are sending speakers along. There’s much much more. This is a talk heavy Festival. Good. Check the programme for details.
10. The Films
It always comes back to the films. There’s over sixty features being screened, including nine in the “new British cinema” category. These include a new David Hare directed film, his first in a while; a new David Mackenzie vehicle (he of the aforementioned ‘Young Adam’); and some bright spark has decided to screen some cult classics like ‘The Last of England’ or the late great Divine in John Waters’ ‘Polyester’. But the real thrill is snuffling around the international offerings, taking a chance on an Alejandro Molina or a Sung-hyun Yoon. Enjoy.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival runs from 15th-26th June.
The full programme of events can be viewed at the official EIFF site here.