EIFF blog: Five Ways EIFF Could Improve for 2013
So it turned out that the 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival was rather good. The successes were many: a consistently strong programme of new films, two world-class retrospectives, a move to a distinct identity, engaging guests, some genuine film discoveries, curious audiences, lovely soup served at its Filmhouse HQ. But in fear of blowing too much smoke up the rejuvenated EIFF's arse, below are five suggestions as to how the festival could be even stronger in twelve months' time.
1. Bring back Project: New Cinephilia
The perceived wisdom is that last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival was an unmitigated disaster, but as far as I’m concerned it contained at least one innovation worth pursuing: Project: New Cinephilia. I can understand why there was no equivalent event this year; there's a whiff of elitism in its title, and I doubt there were many members of Joe public in the audience at the 2011 event to witness what was essentially a navel gazing exercise – the aim was to consider the state of critical writing now – but as film criticism continues to shift and evolve in the digital age, an industry event that encourages critics of all ranks to come together and discuss their craft could only be a good thing.
It would also have been the perfect event to mark the passing of Andrew Sarris, a hugely influential voice in American film criticism. The news of his death, aged 83, was all over Twitter on the first weekend of the festival but I struggled to find a fellow press delegate under 30 who had heard of him, let alone cared. The internet has allowed everyone to be a critic, but to be a good one it’s important to be aware of film criticism’s history if you’ve any hope of being part of its future. We need an event like Project: New Cinephilia now more than ever.
2. Embrace the cult
During this year’s festival I bumped into two fine film curators: Matt Palmer, who programmes the great Psychotronic Cinema seasons at Filmhouse and GFT, as well as some sporadic all-night horror events, and Michael Pierce of Midnight Movies, a popular cult movie night held in London. Seeing Michael again took me back to a rather embarrassing incident at an event he helped organise at last year’s festival. The event in question was a scratch 'n' sniff screening of Polyester, from trash maestro John Waters, and the traumatic incident was me getting kicked in the crown jewels by an inebriated audience member. Despite, or maybe because of, the threat to my reproductive organs it was one of my most memorable screenings at EIFF 2011. I’m not endorsing violence or intoxication, but in terms of atmosphere no screening at this year’s festival came close to the heady fun of Polyester or the events Palmer runs throughout the year. This year’s psychotronic-style movies could have benefited from some of their inventive presentation. I can just imagine how Pierce and co. would have decked out Filmhouse for the late night Tetsuo double bill, for example, or the video nasties that Palmer might have programmed with horror portmanteau V/H/S. Edinburgh has a great cult movie scene and it deserves better than the perfunctory Night Moves programme.
3. Send of bouquet of flowers to the Guardian and the Scotsman
EIFF received some great coverage in the national papers. Robbie Collin’s roundups for The Telegraph were enthusiastic and sharp, while the Independent had two critics in town, Geoffrey Macnab and Jonathan Romney, both of whom reported that the festival is moving in the right direction. Fine critics one and all, but in terms of influence there was one snub that speaks to Edinburgh’s perceived importance nationally: there wasn’t one article about EIFF 2012 from the Guardian.
In terms of readership, no British broadsheet can touch the Guardian’s internet reach (3.5 million daily browsers in the UK). It’s a shame that the festival’s strongest line-up in years wasn’t being discussed on the UK’s most influential website for film. Perhaps a bottle of whisky and a return ticket on the Caledonian sleeper needs to be sent Andrew Pulver’s way come June next year?
Although looking at some of the coverage EIFF received from the Scotsman, maybe it’s better to be ignored. Slagging EIFF is a bit of a Scotsman tradition – even in the festival's 70s heyday the paper’s venerable Forsyth Hardy would perennially put the boot in to artistic director Lynda Myles’ internationally acclaimed programmes. Presumably he found better things to complain about than the paper’s current EIFF attack dogs, however. Coverage included blaming EIFF for a powercut, a snide attack on new patron Mark Cousins and, despite a glowing review from Scotsman's chief critic Alistair Harkness for opening gala Killer Joe, “poor ticket sales on opening night” was the paper's angle on the first day of the festival. What’s all the more remarkable is that the Scotsman is EIFF’s official media partner. Sure you don’t want the press to be snivelling sycophants, but right now it seems that EIFF is keeping its friends close and its enemies closer.
4. Make better use of the Cameo
Coming from Glasgow, one of the biggest joys of attending EIFF is getting the odd opportunity to hang out in the Cameo, Scotland (and perhaps the UK’s) funkiest cinema. (I should note that by funky I’m not referring to the cinema’s notorious plumbing problems.) I’ve yet to find a better viewing experience than Cameo 1. Sitting in one of its red velvet seats is like snuggling up in your favourite armchair from home, only with a screen the size of a double-decker bus for company.
The venue needs to be brought into the fold more. Perhaps a few small events could be held in its smashing wee bar, or maybe the short film programmes could make Cameo their home – it works well for Glasgow Short Film Festival, which creates such a winning atmosphere in the CCA each year that it’s hard to tear yourself away to the main event down the street at GFT.
And, to continue on from suggestion two above, the festival would instantly improve its cult movie experience if the whole of the Night Moves strand was decamped to Cameo.
5. Extend artistic director Chris Fujiwara’s contract
EIFF’s IQ level and cinephile cred has been significantly increased by the presence of film critic and academic Chris Fujiwara at its helm. The New Yorker has charmed the capital, and done so without resorting to rhetoric or grandstanding. He delivered what he promised: a festival that “does legitimately represent the state of world cinema now.” It’s also been reported that it was Fujiwara’s enthusiasm that convinced Miguel Gomez to bring his Berlinale hit Tabu to Edinburgh and for Peter Strickland to hold the world premiere of his much anticipated Berberian Sound Studio here. Forging strong relationships between filmmakers and festival is as essential to the job of artistic director as smart curation.
Money making could be his downfall, though. It’s yet to be revealed how the 66th EIFF’s done in terms of box-office but I'm certain large sections of the programme would have been hard sells to the average festival punter – although the public screenings I attended seemed to be reasonably busy. It would be disappointing if the EIFF Board’s judgment of this year’s success is based purely on bums on seats.
Fujiwara only arrived in Edinburgh in January and has delivered a more than satisfactory programme. Giving him at least another 12 months to build on this initial good work seems like a no brainer to me. I hope EIFF’s Board members agree.