Last Year’s controversial moves have left a nasty stain on one of the UK’s premier film festivals. The 2011 Edinburgh International Film Festival made the headlines for all the wrong reasons: it was dubbed the year of austerity as red carpet events were scrapped in favour of more modern endeavours that didn’t really pan out. Invited guest curators like Gus Van Sant and Isabella Rossellini never showed up and VIP parties were cancelled. How you can have a functioning film festival, especially one that’s meant to be one of the world’s most renowned, without big premieres or exclusive events is unknown. The red carpet acts as nectar, luring the glossy coats of A-List movie stars, and if you cut off their supply then it’s not surprising that nobody shows up. Edinburgh is at serious risk of having its title of Scotland’s premier Film Festival pinched from Glasgow and its growing popularity. Basically Edinburgh is in a state of nervous flux and 2012 needs to be a hit, with audiences and the industry.
The 2012 festival opened with much needed enthusiasm as steps to reprimand last year’s mistakes were made. Under the guidance of new Artistic director Chris Fujiwara, a celebrated American film scholar, critic and author, the red carpet is back as is the Michael Powell Award for Best British Film, a popular and fiercely contested award. Kicking off this year’s programme is the new film from legendary American director William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) Killer Joe. It’s a grisly slice of trailer trash Americana orchestrated with some style as hit man Matthew McConaughey is hired by Emile Hirsh to kill his mother for her life insurance money. Juno Temple pops up as the sexual collateral used to secure the hit man’s talents. Brutal and pitch black in content and execution, Killer Joe offers up the right combination of mystique, art house credibility and movie star magic for an opening night premiere.
If there’s one component that defines this year’s line-up it’s a commitment to fostering new filmmaking talent and to an eclectic and varied programme made up of directors and writers from around the world. In fact there’s no mistaking the internationalism of this year’s festival, a deliberate attempt on Fujiwara’s part to increase Edinburgh’s standing on the world film stage. Edinburgh is committed to representing the best the UK and the world has to offer in the world of film, from micro budget shorts to billion dollar extravaganzas like Pixar’s Scotland-set Brave, which is the closing night gala film. In the International Competition category many hidden gems lie ready to be unearthed. A Woman’s Revenge is a lavish costume drama from Portuguese filmmaker Rita Azevedo Gomes that embraces the theatrical constrictions of the genre by letting events unfold at a slow pace with elaborate sets and costumes, sparse camera movement and little music. The result is strangely compelling and whilst the austere style may infuriate some I found myself won over by this Portuguese tale of a decadent count engaging in the mysterious activities of a prostitute turn noblewoman. The King of the Pigs is the kind of movie that gives Tarantino wet dreams, a brutal South Korean animated feature by Yeon Sang-Ho about revenge and the effects of high school bullying on two characters. It’s got a highly stylised sheen and plenty of painterly blood splattered across the screen.
A lot of the most interesting output at this year’s festival comes from the Far East, in particular China and there ever increasing presence in world film. Here, There is a gorgeous meditation on the anxieties facing China’s young generation. Three interwoven tales by Chinese born, French educated Lu Sheng are wrapped up in some of best cinematography I’ve seen in quite some time. There’s a strong presence in the short film section. English actress Romola Garai (Atonement, One Day) has made an accomplished debut as a writer/director with Scrubber a beguiling short about a woman living in a rural English town, drawn to eccentric encounters involving strangers and casual sex. It’s minimalist and stunning to look at and explores captivating psychological themes.
Across the streets of Edinburgh, from the Filmhouse and the Cameo to the Traverse, the Film Festival is getting its legs back again thanks to a strong new direction, with a renewed focus on the filmmakers themselves and both International and British talent. Come up North and there’s also a good chance you’ll see Tilda Swinton floating around the ancient buildings of the city.