Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Sundance comes to Edinburgh

The Times, Tuesday March 19, 2008

A huge increase in the budget of the Edinburgh International Film Festival has been announced which could turn the event into the British equivalent of Sundance the influential independent festival in the United States, and bring a sprinkling of Hollywood celebrity to Scotland.

The £1.88 million investment spread over three years was revealed yesterday by John Woodward, the chief executive of the UK Film Council, who said the award recognised Edinburgh’s consistent record in nurturing new talent, and showcasing movies which were “fresh and interesting” for audiences and for film industry insiders alike.

He said: “It’s not a perfect match – but [Edinburgh] is probably closest to Sundance. If you think about where Sundance is, that is not a bad aspiration.”

Such is the Film Council's enthusiasm for Edinburgh that it announced that its first tranche of £600,000 is to be invested in time for the 2008 festival, a commitment which will take total funding of this year's event to £1.8 million and help to expand the range of films on show, according to the festival's director, Hannah McGill. She said that the Film Council's decision was a “ringing endorsement” of Edinburgh’s “ethos of discovery, celebration of talent, and of spreading film knowledge and film education”.

Although it has long been overshadowed by the big European festivals at Cannes, Venice and Berlin, ironically it was the strength of Edinburgh’s reputation as the champion of independent filmmakers in the 1970s which led some commentators to label Sundance “the American Edinburgh” when it was established in Park City, Utah under the chairmanship of Robert Redford.

Since then, Sundance has been transformed from an event for low-budget movies made by little-known directors into an extravaganza, which lures A-list actors and representatives from all the best-known Hollywood studios.

This January’s festival bill featured typically eclectic fare, including Marina Zenovich’s expose, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Morgan Spurlock’s Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? and the new Steve Coogan comedy, Hamlet 2.

But it added a celebrity cachet which has usually eluded Edinburgh. Redford himself was in town; Colin Farrell attended the premiere of In Bruges, and Mary Kate Olsen arrived for her latest film The Wackness. Jack Black, Woody Harrelson, Jessica Alba, Ben Kingsley, Quentin Tarantino and Colin Firth were among a host of celebrities lured into snowy Park City to be snapped by the paparazzi.

Ginnie Atkinson, managing director of the festival, said Sundance “was a good analogy” for the Scottish event. “Sundance was always connected with training and the development of filmmakers of vision, all of them with an independent spirit. The industry wants Edinburgh to succeed.- they want Edinburgh to deliver for them, they can see the value of the festival. If they can see that happening, more people can have a good experience,” she said.

For the first time in its history, this year’s festival will be held in June. As well as improved programming, Ms McGill said the new funds would enable services to the film industry to be expanded “enhancing the ability to network and talent spot in Edinburgh” and would enable more new talent showcases to be staged.

She added that a festival in early summer was a more attractive proposition for the industry, because it no longer competed with the London film festival, usually held in October. The new dates also ensure that the event is not swamped in the media frenzy which surrounds the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe, she said.

“In terms of press attention, it’s a lot more attractive to say to distributors to say ‘the film festival will be the only show in town’ than to say ‘you are going to be up against every arts thing in the entire world and you might get bumped off the front page if a Korean chef juggles some knives on the Royal Mile’,” she said.

Other film festivals, notably London and Cambridge are expected to benefit from further announcements from the UKFC, and one will be established as a “red carpet” event - London was “a serious contender” said Mr Woodward.

Edinburgh was the only film festival singled out in the 2005 Labour Party manifesto as a high priority for extra investment. However the Scottish government were quick to point out that the level of its funding through the publicly funded film agency Scottish Screen had also been increased to £250,000 a year.

A Scottish Government spokesman said s that the UK Film Council award would “allow the festival to play a leading role in the development of film in the UK.”

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Established in 1947, the Edinburgh International Film Festival enjoys the longest continuous run of any comparable event in the world.

The first festival was dedicated to the documentary, which was where Scotland’s great strengths in film-making lay. John Grierson opened the eight-day event which screened 75 titles, including Roberto Rossellini’s Paisa, one of the most moving films about war ever made.

During the 1960s, Edinburgh introduced the the idea of the retrospective, re-evaluating the diverse talents of filmmakers including John Huston, Sam Fuller, Douglas Sirk and even the young Martin Scorsese. Over the following decades the festival consolidated its reputation as a pioneering force for UK audiences, screening European, Japanese and independent American films, alongside works by new talents found closer to home, such as Bill Forsyth.

Notable premieres of recent years include Control, The Full Monty, Mrs Brown, Billy Elliot, East is East, Ratcatcher, Stardust, Ratatouille, Little Miss Sunshine, An Inconvenient Truth, and Tsotsi.

Last year, a decision was made to the move the festival from August to June 18-29. A full programme will be announced on May 7.

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