The 49th Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festival kicks off in mid— August, but already new director Mark Cousins’s plans for a striking revamp are creating a stir of excitement. Trevor Johnston, for one, can hardly wait.
As everyone knows. there are too many film festivals in the world. Too many places with more money than the perennially cash-strapped Edinburgh event, too many places with sunnier locations. too many places all chasing after the same set of new movies. The departure of the Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festival‘s previous head honcho Penny Thomson was just one indication of how the central event in the Scottish movie calendar has been battling to hold its own in the past few years. With the handing over of the reins to a new team lead by director Mark Cousins and producer Ginnie Atkinson. the plans for the 1995 fortnight are already showing a remarkable new combination of pragmatism and enterprise. Ifthe loss. for instance. ofthe festival’s paltry £15000 grant from the British Film institute was enough to raise the spectre of relegation to some sort of celluloid third division. this year looks like the moment the Drarnbuie Edinburgh Film Festival marshals the enthusiasm and expertise that‘s long been there into a structure that makes sense in the realpolitik of what is. after all. a very demanding arena.
‘Overall, the lilm festi 'al needed to be made more distinctive.’ reflects Belfast-born Cousins with a not unfamiliar blend ofjauntiness and determination. ‘We had to redefine our targets and decide that we weren‘t going to compete for the same movies that Venice and Toronto are after. Let's face it. that way madness lies. No. instead we had to reshape the festival. reprogramme it and start doing the things that other festivals weren't doing.‘
Abandoning the rigid stranding system introduced by former director David Robinson in the late 80s. Cousins‘s approach is to anchor the programming around five different sections. The Galas will focus on a gallery of new movies. opening the festival with Ken Loach‘s stirring Spanish Civil War saga Land and Freedom and closing it with Peter Hear My Song Chelsom‘s quirky but exasperatingly ill-focused Blackpool comedy chronicle Funny Bones. while bringing in the latest from Terence Davies (The Neon Bible). Nikita Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun) and Robert Rodriguez (Desperado). The new Rosebud section draws on the advice and input of a network of spies all over the world and will focus. says Cousins. on ‘movies that aren't doing the festival circuit. on the independent. the experimental. the innovative and the politically brave'. Cousins points to the likes of Fridrik Thor Fridriksson‘s freewheeling. rather
wonderful Icelandic road-movie-with-a-twist as the kind of title that should have immense appeal to an audience looking for the freshest of filmic experiences.
This year's Retrospective. on the other hand. seeks to put the career of Stanley Donen in a new context. showing the much-loved early musicals like On the Town and Singin' in the lain (both made. incredibly. while he was still in his twenties) alongside later fare including the souring Albert Finney/Audrey Hepburn love story 'lwojor the Road to make a case for the maturing vision of one of Hollywood‘s great professionals. Sadly for Edinburgh. Donen has begun work (at the age of 7 l ) on a new film and won't be here in person. but we should be seeing a specially
‘lt’s important that festivals become partners with the film industry, we’re not there to be hands-oft artistic museums of cinema.
shot 90-minute filmed interview projected on the big screen by way of amends.
The most substantial of Cousins‘s innovations are more exciting still. Drawing on his experience programming the British cinema strand in recent years. he's created the New British Xpo. which will take over Filmhouse 2 for live days to screen every feature—length British drama made in the last year. a unique project which will provide a forum for filmmakers. foreign programmers. producers and talent-spotters to meet. watch and mingle. ‘l’ieccs like Antonia Bird's Safe demonstrated that films made for television with close-ups and naturalistic acting can take on a new kind of life when you put them on the big screen. We'll be selecting the best of the new television work like Karl Francis‘s .S'treetli/e and showing it in the rest of the festival. but if there are fanatics who want to get into the NBX screenings. tickets will be available on a stand-by basis.‘
There may be those who‘ll complain that this
Mark Cousins: doing things other festivals aren’t doing
sounds like a closed shop for swaggering industry types. but Cousins argues his case strongly: ‘lt's important that festivals become partners with the film industry. we‘re not there to be hands-off artistic museums of cinema. As a documentary filmmaker of some modest achievement. I think it‘s important that Edinburgh becomes more of a lilmmakers‘ festival'.
To this end in particular. he‘s pulled off a spectacular set of coups in the new Scene by Scene section which will allow a number of international moviemakers to come and discuss their work in front of an audience. using a video projector and specially- selected clips to concentrate the attention. The guest list makes exciting reading: Steve Martin and Scots director Gillies McKinnon will discuss their collaboration on the star‘s new movie A Simple 'lwist (if/"ate. Jole and Ethan C‘oen will be looking back on The Hudsur‘ker l’rox'y. while esteemed screenwriter Robert ('hinatown Towne. Nic Rocg and his writing collaborator Allan Scott. xl/)()('(ll_\'/).\'(’ Now sound editor Walter Murch and great Italian screenwriter Suso (Tecchi D‘Amico will also be on hand to talk about their work too. ‘lt's all about expanding the detailed. intelligent discussion of cinema beyond the usual pre or post-screening chat from the moviemakcr.‘ affirms Cousins.
With this year‘s event taking in all of Edinburgh's major commercial cinemas and even showcasing highlights across at the Glasgow Film Theatre for the very first time. it's a marvellous opportunity for the local audience to reward such obvious adventure on the part of the organisers with a bumper box office take. Over to you. dear readers.
The 49th Dram/)uie lz‘dinlmrgh Film Festival opens on Sunday l3 Aug with a gala showing oj'Ken Lorie/1's Land and Freedom; while the (ill .s‘ereenings open on 'Iuesday /5 Aug with Stanley Donen is 'Iii'ofor the Road. 'I'ltefree [)I‘et'ieti' programme is already available and includes a postal hookiirgform; personal hooking starts/rota Saturday 2‘) July at the Edinburgh Him/rouse on 013/ 467 7664.
25 The List 28 Jul-10 Aug l995