Underlining its emphasis on discovery, the Edinburgh International Film Festival (June 16-27) brings new UK and international work to the attention of distributors and audiences. Matt Mueller reports
Celebrating its third year firmly ensconced in the month of June, following its flight from Edinburgh’s August festival overcrowding, the 64th Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) is more than ever a festival of discovery and a showcase for new UK film-making talent.
“Discovery is something we’ve always emphasised,” says EIFF artistic director Hannah McGill, who has intensified her efforts to programme more first and second-time film-makers and more world and international premieres at the festival, which runs June 16-27. In light of current buyer circumspection, it is a natural progression for Edinburgh to offer a platform for niche titles and maverick talent rather than chase higher-profile titles with UK distribution plans already mapped out.
“We find we’re working less with distributors and more directly with producers and sales agents,” says McGill, who has been at the helm since 2007. “The more we can draw some of those niche films to the attention of UK distributors, the better.”
Edinburgh still plays a crucial role in the calendar for the smaller UK distributors such as Vertigo, Metrodome, Soda Pictures and Artificial Eye. “Edinburgh is a festival we’ve always supported,” says Zak Brilliant, VP of distribution and publicity for Icon Film Distribution. “It’s unique. It’s more intimate than London, and it’s about the films and the filmmakers. It almost feels like Sundance of old.” This year, Icon will hold the world premiere of Karl Golden’s Pelican Blood, following previous rewarding EIFF launches for Man On Wire and Once.
While McGill admires how receptive the festival’s audiences are to discovering new, challenging film-makers, she is also aware that red-carpet glamour is a prerequisite for any major festival. Two years ago, Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller whipped up headlines at The Edge Of Love gala, and this year EIFF will play host to the glitzy international premiere of Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3, a month ahead of its UK release. “Disney and EIFF have a great relationship,” says Charlotte Tudor, vice-president, publicity, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures UK. “The festival has proved a successful UK launch for well-loved Pixar films such as Ratatouille and Wall•E, and Disney/Pixar filmmakers have a great time attending.”
Other Gala titles at this year’s EIFF include Aaron Schneider’s Get Low, starring Bill Murray and Robert Duvall, Pascal Chaumeil’s Heartbreaker, Bart Freundlich’s The Rebound and Floria Sigismondi’s The Runaways.
McGill mentions US independents, animation and documentary as strands in which audiences will find particularly rewarding discoveries this year, including titles such as Rona Mark’s The Crab, documentaries Out Of The Ashes and Girl With Black Balloons, and a new film from the Quay brothers. This year’s retrospective section, After the Wave, will highlight forgotten British films from 1967-79.
At press time, EIFF had 22 world premieres and 12 international premieres lined up. The majority of world premieres are British but there are also titles from Canada, the US and Peru.
Leading the charge for the UK is Cherry Tree Lane, the third film from Paul Andrew Williams, who made a splash at EIFF 2006 with his debut, London To Brighton. An urban thriller, the film will be released in the UK by Metrodome, with sales handled by The Salt Company. Other UK world premieres include debut features from actor-comedian Ben Miller (Huge) and Bafta-winning short director Hattie Dalton, whose Third Star will close the festival (see p15). Also screening is Ashley Horner’s art-industry satire Brilliantlove, which premiered at Tribeca this year and Gareth Edwards’ debut, Monsters, set in a post-alien invasion world, which premiered at South By Southwest.
British independent new wave
McGill is particularly excited about a new wave of UK independent films, produced outside the traditional funding structures. “We’re seeing that British film-makers are more and more following the US model of doing it genuinely independently, raising the finance with an entrepreneurial spirit rather than relying on state funding,” says McGill. “We’ve found some exciting titles that I hope go on to have a festival life after us.”
Besides Toy Story 3, the festival opens with another animation, Sylvain Chomet’s Edinburgh-set The Illusionist, which will be the inaugural premiere at the city’s spectacular Festival Theatre. Though the film world premiered at this year’s Berlinale, Chomet’s connection to Edinburgh (he moved to the city following The Triplets Of Belleville’s enthusiastic reception at EIFF 2003, and made The Illusionist there) made it an easy choice for the organisers. “We had to have it,” says McGill. “I’ve never seen a film that makes Scotland look so amazing.”
Due to its place in the festival calendar, Edinburgh cannot help being reactive to Cannes, though McGill does not see the French festival as an obstacle. “As a summer festival, I’m always reacting more to Sundance and Berlin,” she insists. Last year, McGill gave Cannes premiere Antichrist a last-minute EIFF slot after it secured UK distribution, and is open to doing so again with another buzz title from the Croisette.
Though not an official market, distributors and sales agents attend EIFF in numbers. Last year saw buyers from India, Austria, Germany, Portugal and France, as well as IFC, Magnolia and European powerhouses MK2, Celluloid Dreams and Wild Bunch. Three years ago the festival introduced a buffet dinner to foster an informal networking zone for film-makers and sales agents. This year, EIFF is also liaising with the film export event London UK Film Focus to identify and support film-makers with titles at both events. Both sides hope it will lead to a long-term partnership.
In the wake of Ginnie Atkinson’s departure as EIFF’s long-serving managing director earlier this year, an interim COO has been appointed. With the Edinburgh Filmhouse (where Atkinson was CEO) merging with the festival under the label Centre for the Moving Image, the new organisation will have an overall chief executive, to be appointed in the near future, leaving the festival structure in a state of flux. “We’ll be looking at how we restructure once the CEO comes on board,” says McGill.
One challenge the festival will need to face head on for 2011 is that the UK Film Council’s three-year $2.8m (£1.9m) grant to assist the move to June comes to an end this year. “We always knew it was for three years and we always knew it was going to be hard to replace that level of investment,” says McGill. “We’re confident we can maintain the festival but there are going to have to be hard choices made, as there are in every industry in the world right now.”
Now settled in its early summer slot, EIFF seems to have a stronger sense of purpose and distinctiveness than it did even a couple of years ago. “We’ve got a really good line-up of uncompromising independent films that don’t necessarily have an eye on commercialism,” says McGill. “I think festivals can now trailblaze for these films, rather than waiting to see what the distributors pick up.”
The Edinburgh International Film Festival has a reputation for breaking new talent. Matt Mueller explores the importance of the event as a launch pad, and profiles selected titles world premiering at this year’s edition
“Most of my British section this year is world premieres,” says Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) artistic director Hannah McGill. “That gives the audience the chance to discover and vote with their feet. Festivals are in more of a position now to influence distribution, rather than the other way around.”
Edinburgh’s role and reputation for breaking new talent from UK shores and beyond has seen the festival serve as a crucial launch pad for many a talented young film-maker. Stuart Hazeldine, writer-director of last year’s festival discovery Exam, says it was always his hope to launch at EIFF. “When your entire cast, crew and financing are British and you’re low budget, you instantly think of Edinburgh,” he says. “New talent breaks through there and we wanted to be a part of that.”
The steam his debut picked up in Edinburgh led to Exam’s UK distribution deal and a Bafta nomination for outstanding British debut. “It’s only a good launch pad if you’re noticed, and fortunately we were,” adds Hazeldine.
Likewise, director Lindy Heymann finished her debut, Kicks, at the end of 2008 but was swayed by McGill’s enthusiasm following an early screening to keep the film back for the 2009 festival. “When you’re a small British film without a distributor, it feels nerve-wracking holding on that long,” says Heymann. “But it made perfect sense because Edinburgh is the launch pad for independent British movies.”
With the festival’s focus on discovery, McGill and her team do not have to look far to find new talent. This year, she has been excited to see a new breed of independent UK film-maker take a lead from the entrepreneurial US indie scene. Believing it is EIFF’s role to give these voices the opportunity to be heard, McGill programmes with diversity and passion in mind.
“I’m very interested in new filmmakers who have done things with ambition and passion, like Hattie Dalton with Third Star,” says McGill. “That was a script everyone had read and loved but what I love about her film is that it’s not the most glitzy production but it’s smart, it contains beautiful performances and Hattie made the film she wanted to make.”
The festival’s leading accolade for new talent is its Michael Powell award for best new British feature film. Last year it went to Duncan Jones’ Moon, with previous winners including Shane Meadows’ Somers Town and Anton Corbijn’s Control. EIFF also dishes out its Skillset new directors award for first and second-time film-makers, with last year’s winner — director Cary Fukunaga for his debut Sin Nombre — returning to the UK this year to shoot a new version of Jane Eyre starring Mia Wasikowska. “We already have 40 contenders for this year’s new directors award,” says McGill. “The number goes up every year.”
There is also the best new international feature award, which was established last year to attract more world and international premieres.
And, of course, there is Trailblazers, which was set up in 2007 as EIFF’s flagship talent showcase and selects 25 individuals from across the UK filmmaking spectrum and UK film schools to highlight as emerging talent.
The class of 2009 included Fish Tank actress Katie Jarvis, while original Trailblazer Eduard Grau, who studied at the London Film School, was hired as cinematographer on A Single Man as a result of his EIFF showreel. Grau will be returning to the festival this year to share his experiences with the class of 2010.
SELECTED UK WORLD PREMIERES at edinburgh
Closing night gala
Four childhood friends — one with terminal cancer — take a camping trip on the Welsh coast. “It’s a beautiful and funny film, with a terrific script,” says McGill. “Hattie’s a talented director.” A Western Edge Pictures production in association with Matador Pictures, Cinema One and the Film Agency for Wales, Third Star was shot on Super-16 over four weeks last summer on a third of its original budget with a cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch and JJ Feild. “It was ambitious but we just jumped in, feeling, ‘We’ll get there somehow,’” says Dalton, who had just completed post when she discovered Third Star had been chosen as the closing night gala. She won a Bafta for her 2004 short, The Banker.
International sales Independent Film Company
An Ecosse Films production, McGill calls Pelican Blood “a beautiful piece of work about odd subject matters — birdwatching and suicide.” The film features a powerful performance from rising British star Harry Treadaway as Nikko, an obsessive birdwatcher trying to get over a break-up with a girl he met on a suicide website. “Edinburgh’s always been a great festival to discover new films, particularly British ones, so it’s an ideal place for us to launch Pelican Blood,” says director Karl Golden. “It’s a bold and passionate film with a wild energy about it and audiences at Edinburgh always have an appetite for something new, something different. It’s a good fit.”
UK dist/international sales Icon Group
Jackboots On Whitehall
An A-list UK voice cast — Ewan McGregor, Rosamund Pike, Alan Cumming, Tom Wilkinson — was assembled for this politicised, satirical puppet animation offering a bizarre, alternative take on the Second World War. “A very strange film but it’s great — lots and lots of fun,” says McGill, who tracked Jackboots throughout its lengthy production process. Sibling writer-directors Edward and Rory McHenry make their film-making debut with Jackboots. “The Scottish aspect to the story makes Edinburgh a perfect place to make a debut,” says Rory McHenry.
International sales Media 8 Entertainment
One of the more straight-up commercial offerings at this year’s EIFF, SoulBoy is a coming-of-age drama set in the 1970s underground Northern Soul scene. With a hot young British cast made up of Martin Compston, Felicity Jones, Alfie Allen and Nichola Burley, assembled by Irish director Shimmy Marcus, SoulBoy is a good old-fashioned British crowd-pleaser and was produced by Ipso Facto Films, with funding support from Northern Film and Media, Media + and the Irish Film Board. “I like that there are still films being made in this feelgood way, with passion and determination on small budgets,” says McGill.
UK dist Soda Pictures
International sales Moviehouse Entertainment
The directorial debut of acclaimed British actor-comedian Ben Miller (The Armstrong & Miller Show) is a blackly comic drama about a feuding double act trying to make it in the cut-throat world of stand-up comedy. With a cast that includes Noel Clarke and Thandie Newton, and big-name comedians Frank Skinner and Eddie Izzard in cameos as themselves, Huge was first performed as a play at the Edinburgh Fringe, and features a screenplay by Jez Butterworth. “Edinburgh changed my life once, back when I was a spotty student hoping to become a comedian,” says Miller. “Now I’m a spotty middle-aged man hoping to become a director, and I’m hoping it’ll work its yeasty magic once again.”
Sales contact Rebecca Farhall and Colin Jones, Fortuitous Films and Parachute
A Spanking In Paradise
Under The Radar
A Spanking In Paradise’s writer-director Wayne Thallon is an author of true-crime books (Cut-throat: The Vicious World Of Rod McLean — Mercenary, Gunrunner And International Drug Baron). Shot over three weeks in January, his micro-budget black comedy is about a notorious Edinburgh crime lord and his wide- eyed nephew. McGill describes it as “funny, bold and raw at the edges but with a toughness and originality that’s really cool. It just shows there are grassroots people out there making films for no money who we have a chance to expose to an audience.”
Contact Running Productions
Other UK world premieres at Edinburgh
■ Cherry Tree Lane
Dir Paul Andrew Williams
■ The Kid
Dir Nick Moran
■ Out Of The Ashes
Dirs Lucy Martens, Timothy Albone
■ Road To Las Vegas
Dir Jason Massot
Dir Col Spector
■ Superhero Me
Dir Steve Sale
■ Ollie Kepler’s Expanding Purple World
Dir Viv Fongenie
Dir Morag McKinnon
Dir Miles Watts