EIFF line up female filmmakers & 80s horror retrospectives

This year’s EIFF retrospectives featuring American cinema of the 1980s is inspired by today’s current Trump-era America, say organisers

Article by Jamie Dunn | 22 Mar 2018
  • Day of the Dead

The retrospective for this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival has been announced, and organisers say they’ve been inspired by current affairs in Trump's America with a programme that will take EIFF audiences back to the cinema of the Reagan era to “explore the evolution of American culture today”. Entitled Time of the Signs: Chasing the American Zeitgeist, the retrospective is a triptych with three strands – American Woman, American Exposé and The American Nightmare.

"In light of recent events on the other side of the Atlantic, Time of the Signs is designed to reflect important cultural issues in America today through the cinema of the country's past,” says the retrospective's programmer, Niall Greig Fulton.

American Woman: Female Directors in American Cinema

The zestiest, timeliest and most extensive of the retrospective's three strands is American Woman, subtitled “Female Directors in American Cinema”. The aim of the strand, says EIFF’s press release, is to “shine a light on the work of female directors from 1980 to 1990, while creating a fascinating picture of American society at the time from a female perspective.”

Well-known works like Amy Heckerling’s raunchy teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Kathryn Bigelow’s poetic vampire movie Near Dark sit alongside underappreciated gems like Joyce Chopra’s study of teen alienation Smooth Talk, starring a young Laura Dern, and Donna Deitch’s moving lesbian romance Desert Hearts. There will also be rare big screen outings for a pair of punk classics: The Decline of Western Civilization, Penelope Spheeris’ vibrant documentary about Los Angeles’s punk scene, and Smithereens, Susan Seidelman’s fiction take on a similar era in New York City.

Smooth Talk

There’s more of New York’s music culture in the form of Jennie Livingston’s brilliant doc Paris Is Burning, and there’s also rarely-screened work from two titans of American experimental cinema: Lizzie Borden and Shirley Clark with Working Girls and Ornette: Made in America respectively. “It's a truly breathtaking selection of films,” says Fulton of the American Woman programme, “revealing ground-breaking, insightful work that paints a fascinating picture of America at the time.

"This strand is complemented by a retrospective look at the essential, innovative work of the brilliant experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer,” he adds.

American Exposé: The Media in Mainstream American Cinema 1975-1990

The China Syndrome

The second strand, American Exposé, subtitled The Media in Mainstream American Cinema 1975-1990, will “explore the evolution of the crucial role played by the media in American society today,” says Fulton. Award-winners like Network and The China Syndrome from the 1970s and satires like The King of Comedy and Broadcast News from the subsequent decade are all included.

“Focusing on subjects such as freedom of speech, fake news, the cult of celebrity and the power of investigative journalism, these classic films are as compelling and relevant now as they were in the 1980s,” says Fulton.

The American Nightmare: Horror in Mainstream American Cinema

A Nightmare on Elm Street

The final strand, The American Nightmare, will take the form of late night screenings of much-loved horror movies of the early 80s – “a golden era for US horror,” says Fulton. Films featured include John Carpenter's The Fog, Joe Dante’s The Howling, Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street. The press release also notes that Day of the Dead, the third film in George A Romero's zombie trilogy, will screen in tribute to the late filmmaker, and presumably the screening of Poltergeist will serve the same function for Hooper, who also died last year.

“The American Nightmare: Horror in Mainstream American Cinema examines the way in which genre cinema has affected popular contemporary American television, presenting a selection of highly influential titles from the early 1980s,” says Fulton. “It's an exciting late night strand, providing a rare opportunity for all the cult cinema fans in our audience to catch these dark gems in their full glory on the big screen."

EIFF 2018's main programme is announced on 23 May. Tickets go on sale to Filmhouse members on Wed 23 May at 12noon and on sale to the public on Fri 25 May at 10am