Reel Talk: EIFFing good festival
It's roughly the mid-point of the 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival. I’m sitting in the Filmhouse bar, the festival's main hub, and I feel enveloped in a kind of cinephilic bonhomie. Two swishy-haired hipsters to my right are practically vibrating with excitement as they clutch their tickets for Kotoko, the new film from Japanese cyberpunk maestro Shinya Tsukamoto. At an adjacent table a trio of filmmakers are arguing about a movie I don't think I've seen yet – something about human trafficking, I think. One of them loves it, another hates it, and one of them is flirting outrageously with the one in the pro camp and so sides with him. Behind me a sweet middle-aged couple are tucking into a late supper and discussing Mark Cousins’ penis, which I presume they just witnessed on screen at the world premiere of his indulgent, playful, open-hearted and charming new feature What Is This Film Called Love?
A couple of hours later I chat to an EIFF programmer who’s delighted that a film she selected has just gone down well at its first public screening; all the staff at this year's festival have smiles on their faces, in fact. If I’d had a similar night observing Filmhouse last year I’d have found about as much love and goodwill as there is in the average Richard Littlejohn column.
It’s tempting to heap the praise for this turnaround on to incumbent artistic director Chris Fujiwara. The festival team is pretty much unchanged from last year, but under his cineliterate guidance the curation feels confident – everyone seems like they’re pulling in the same direction.
Praise should also go to the paying public. I’ve not heard any official word on box-office figures yet, but judging from the public screenings I’ve attended there’s an adventurous audience in Edinburgh willing to shell out £9 a ticket on hard sells like late night screenings of punky satires from the Philippines, documentaries on coal mining from China and a retrospective of a Japanese filmmaker (Shinji Somai) who's even less well known in the UK than the contestants from Big Brother 4.
There’s still room for improvement (for example: the once great Night Moves strand was pretty shoddy this year – Irish creature feature Grabbers being the exception), but I'm happy to report that EIFF looks to be off the ropes and finding its feet.