To get a handle on this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, and also so I could write this article, I decided to read the full EIFF programme, cover to cover, to see what fell out and what stuck from reading the basic, publicly released information. My overview? Good. Varied. Lighter than usual perhaps. A strong emphasis on American film. Lots of sex and prostitution. Ewan McGregor playing God. Not as globally and politically aware as you might expect.
EIFF has been criticised in the past for being too industry focused – almost the opposite of it’s big sibling, The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which it split away from a few years back and which remains delightfully and sometimes infuriatingly tourist friendly. A lot of the time EIFF seems more the place for the press than the public and certainly those with a lanyard do tend to pack out the Filmhouse and Cameo bars like a swarm of smug, networking insects. The programme itself reflects this elitism. Most of the write ups seem geared towards a film buff at best and a film scholar at worst. I have to admit that when I see the words ‘interpersonal exchanges’, ‘spontaneous explorations’, ‘identity’, post-modern landscape’ and ‘juxtaposed’ all packed into one 50-odd word film synopsis my eyes do glaze over rather. And I’m an ex literature student!
I think if you look beyond this wank (and it is wank), however, there is a very interesting and very varied programme. And even though the showing of Back to the Future at the Festival Theatre accompanied by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra has already sold out, there are other films worth wasting a June evening on. The opening and closing films themselves look very interesting, although I’m not sure I’d quite have the stomach for The Legend of Barney Thomson, a veritable better acted, Glasgow-based, music-free Sweeney Todd, if appearances are anything to go by. The island-based Iona, however, potentially has a gore factor of 0 and a charm factor of 10.
Of the rest, Ewan McGregor will be well and truly present at this year’s festival as he appears In Person and as Jesus in Last Days in the Desert, a film I hesitantly assume may be quite good, although I personally tend to avoid Christianity-romps with an atheist shaped barge-pole. What stands out for me is Welcome to Me – I have seen the trailer for this film and it looks excellent – Kristen Wiig playing a woman with a borderline personality disorder who wins the lottery and then effectively buys herself a TV show. This is a fine line to tread but by all appearances Wiig is doing one hell of a job. James Marsden is appearing in both Welcome to Me and The D Train with Jack Black in potentially a very watchable twist on the high school reunion trope. The Chambermaid Lynn could possibly go either way, but is at least doing something interesting and again potentially exploring mental health problems, and I Stay with You is apparently ‘reversing gender roles’.
The programme has been very usefully divided into sections this year. I’m not sure how past programmes have been divided up but I do think this is one of the most reader-friendly layouts for years (although maybe that’s the editor in me peeking out). Of the sections that seem to have the most potential, ‘Focus on Mexico’ is an arbitrary group, but one that seems justified as much, if not more, than the ‘American Dreams’ section, by its potential quality. I also think ‘The Young and the Wild’ section looks great, begging the question why EIFF only let children choose five of the films in their programme. Although I am very confused about the difference between this section and ‘Filmfest Jonior’. If you are reading the programme I would definitely recommend going backwards to get all the interesting stuff, particularly if, like me, you’ll only usually manage half.
I have a very bad habit of ignoring documentaries. A few years ago I pretty much only did documentaries at EIFF though and I really enjoyed them. I actually think that the quality of documentaries at EIFF is rather more consistent than the films, maybe because there’s no acting involved. This year’s documentaries span the usual documentary line between moving, thought provoking and deeply exploitative, with the three interesting picks for me being Amy, When Elephants Fight and The Wolfpack.
Amidst all this sex and feelings and action and shit, however, there seems a lack of very many really questioning films (although maybe they just don’t highlight this in the programme). We live in a world that is beset by political, global and environmental challenges, but you wouldn’t really think so from looking at this programme. Well unless you count That Sugar Film which will apparently have you ‘seriously looking at your food choices’. The programme also appears somewhat gender and hetero normative, with very few films engaging with gender and LGBTQIA issues. Which again, seems to rather miss the point. On both of these subjects it seems to be the shorts, rather than the features, that are doing the most questioning, with Shadowed Landscapes, Edgelands, Black Box Shorts 3: The Price of Progress and Mirroring Mexico as the few engaged amongst the many.
Of course I’ve only read the programme. Nothing more. Whether my estimations ring true remains to be seen over the next ten days or so. What I would say is that it looks exciting and interesting, and if you are feeling a bit put off by people in lanyards who look way too comfortable, shove past them and remember they’re freeloaders; you’re paying for this stuff, so you deserve the full experience.