Edinburgh Film Festival 2013

Gareth Negus, Matthew Turner and Sam Osborn report from the 2013 Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Leviathan
Leviathan

Gareth Negus

The 2013 Edinburgh International Film Festival followed a successful first year for Artistic Director Chris Fujiwara.

Perhaps I ended up seeing the wrong films (with 100+ features and short programmes, it really wasn’t possible to see everything) but I felt the programme was a slight disappointment after last year.  A lot of this was down to the underwhelming opening and closing films.  It’s clearly not easy to select the perfect films for these slots: they need to balance commercial appeal with star quality for the red carpet press photographers, while maintaining a degree of artistic credibility.  So Breathe In, the opener, probably seemed like a good bet: co-star Felicity Jones available for pictures, from the director of the well-reviewed Like Crazy, and an accessible subject matter. Unfortunately, though well photographed and nicely played by Jones and Guy Pearce, the story – middle aged musician and family man finds his mojo revitalised by a younger girl – was a very familiar one, and the film did nothing new or interesting with it.

Director Drake Doremus, star Felicity Jones and Artistic Director Chris Fujiwara at the Opening Night Gala, Breathe In
Director Drake Doremus, star Felicity Jones and Artistic Director Chris Fujiwara at the Opening Night Gala, Breathe In

But at least the film was competent, unlike Not Another Happy Ending, which closed the Festival.  I wanted to like this Scottish romcom starring Karen Gillan, but a clumsy script and a leading man struggling with a thick French accent made it impossible.  Set in a Notting Hill version of Glasgow, the plot concerns a writer (Gillan) struggling with her second novel and a love/hate relationship with her publisher.  Nothing about the film rang true, right from the start, which sees the main character living in a huge, immaculate flat despite struggling to sell her first novel, dressing like a model in vintage clothes (she’s like a manic pixie dream girl from someone else’s movie).

Formula filmmaking like this may look easy, but the script was crying out for a rewrite.  The Surprise Film was Richard Curtis’ About Time, which though drenched in his characteristic sentiment and apparently uninterested in doing anything dramatic with its time travel conceit, still contained a degree of emotional truth entirely absent from Not Another Happy Ending.

Ludicrously, Happy Ending was also in the running for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film, a decision which seemed more to do with keeping the funding people at Creative Scotland happy than anything else.  The Powell Award, for my money, is Edinburgh’s USP, so it was disappointing that many of the films in the line-up this year were so poor.  Last year, interesting British productions like Unconditional weren’t even nominated; this year, we had well-mounted but crushingly tedious films like The Sea and A Long Way from Home. Thankfully, there was also Everyone’s Going to Die, a deadpan black comedy romance about a melancholy quasi-gangster bonding with a young German woman rethinking her upcoming marriage.  It sounds glum, but had me laughing out loud, and was one of my favourite films of the Festival.

The actual winner of the Powell was Leviathan, an impressionistic documentary about a deep sea trawler.  Perhaps a film to be experienced more than enjoyed, it was undeniably a distinctive work, though so radically different from everything else in the running that judging it against the competition was almost impossible.

Call Girl
Call Girl

I managed to miss every single film up for the International Feature Film Award and, as usual, failed to see anywhere near as many of the retrospectives than I had initially planned – though I very much enjoyed the two Jean Gremillion films I did manage to catch.  I would also have liked to have seen more of the Korean and Swedish films; one of the latter, Call Girl (previously reviewed here on Mostly Film) was a terrific political thriller inspired by sordid real events in 70s Sweden. The film will shortly be released in the UK by Artificial Eye.  I did better with the Not Another Teen Movie strand, an excellent initiative which featured films selected by the EIFF’s young programmers strand, though I’m not sure how many people from the relevant age group came to the actual screenings.  Finally, the Festival also featured a fine series of documentaries concerned with cinema itself.  I was sorry to miss Celluloid Man, but pleased to see Natan – the story of a major figure in French cinema who was virtually wiped out of history, which was co-directed by Paul Duane of this parish – and, especially, Mark Cousins’ A Story of Children and Film. I have a simple test when it comes to books or documentaries about film: they should tell me about films I had never previously heard of, and make me want to see them. Cousins’ work consistently does this.

Top ten

Everyone’s Going to Die
Call Girl
Frances Ha
This is Martin Bonner
What Maisie Knew
A Story of Children and Film
Stories We Tell
Mister John
Natan
The Berlin File

Matthew Turner

Like Gareth, I was underwhelmed by the Festival this year. I say that with a heavy heart, as I’m usually a big flag-waver / apologist for Edinburgh – hell, I even defended the Mulligan year by saying the films were good and they made the best of a bad lot. I’m not so sure I’d lay the blame with the opening and closing films – I liked Breathe In a lot (though I agree it was a poor opening choice) and I seem to be one of the few people who didn’t hate Not Another Happy Ending – but I won’t bother defending them here. For me, the problem is that the festival just didn’t have anything to really get excited about – it seemed like there was a distinct lack of buzz, reflected in the almost total lack of coverage in the mainstream media. I’d be surprised if random people on the street in Edinburgh even knew there was a film festival on (next year, I intend to test that theory).

It’s clear from Fujiwara’s comments in The Scotsman that funding was a big issue this year – what I’d like to know is whether they actually tried to get hold of films people might have been excited about (examples that spring to mind include Filth, Only God Forgives, A Field in England, Pain & Gain – basically anything decent released between now and the LFF). Branding the EIFF a “festival of discovery” is all very well but you need to have at least a handful of films that people have actually heard of and are excited to see in order to get people to open up the brochure in the first place. I think it’s important not to underestimate the extent that one of the things the average Cineworld audience member wants from a film festival is bragging rights on films that won’t be out for a few weeks. (See also: the Surprise Film – audience members were apparently a lot happier with the choice of About Time than critics were). On top of that, only having one Screen Talk (Robert Carlyle) was another worrying sign – how come they couldn’t draft in Noah Baumbach, since he was up there?

Stanley Weber and Karen Gillan do their best in Not Another Happy Ending.
Stanley Weber and Karen Gillan do their best in Not Another Happy Ending.

At any rate, it was an odd Edinburgh all round for me. I only saw a mere 34 films (as opposed to my annual 42) but a big reason for that was because I was offered about three times more interviews this year – at one point I had done almost as many interviews as I’d seen films. That meant that I missed out on some films I otherwise would have seen (see list below) – I particularly wish I’d caught Leviathan, which was universally praised by all those who saw it. There were some nice surprises: charming US indie Old Stock and minimalist German western Gold were highlights for me and I was completely blown away by The Conjuring, which I wasn’t expecting as I hadn’t liked Insidious. I was also pleased to see that my two favourite Edinburgh sub-genres were present and correct this year, namely the Scandinavian coming-of-age movie (You & Me Forever) and the heart-warming competition-based documentary (Desert Runners). Other than that, my Edinburgh highlights would also include: seeing Fantastic Voyage on the big screen, seeing Jurassic Park in 3D IMAX (just fantastic) and, oh yes, winning the film quiz for the second year in a row.

Top Ten

1) Frances Ha
2) The Conjuring
3) Old Stock
4) Gold
5) Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction
6) What Maisie Knew
7) You & Me Forever
8) Stories We Tell
9) Mister John
10) Fire in the Night

Bubbling under: The Battle of the Sexes, Desert Runners, Natan, This Is Martin Bonner, Magic Magic, A Story of Children and Film
Notable misses:  Leviathan, Call Girl, The Deep, Up & Away, Lunarcy!

Sam Osborn

This was my first “proper” festival, having previously done Sundance London in a compacted day out.  Edinburgh was something that I could never have expected.  Not only is the city beautiful but the social aspect that happens at the Festival is amazing.  I was nervous that, as a newbie at a well-established event with industry and film buff types, I would be shown up to be the fraud that I suspected myself to be.  But no.  This could not have been further from what actually happened.  Everyone was very welcoming and this made the whole experience so much greater.  EIFF is like living in a bubble, a bubble filled with free alcohol, parties and films in abundance.  If I had an idea of heaven this would be pretty close!

Veteran animator Richard Williams interviewed.
Veteran animator Richard Williams interviewed.

I spent my 12 days at the festival working my way through 43 feature films and the special showcase event with Richard Williams.  I could have easily watched more if only I had more time!  My selection process was simple – anything that sounded interesting I watched.  I’ll improve this strategy next year now that I know what to expect.  Something that surprised me most was how enjoyable I found the documentaries with a few standout titles in there such as LeviathanLeviathan was not my cup of tea but I can appreciate it for how beautifully shot it was and could have given it a more comprehensive viewing if I hadn’t been so shattered prior to the screening.   My aim was to see different things that I wouldn’t ordinarily choose.  I think I accomplished this, sometimes to my peril!

Top Ten

Everyone’s Going To Die
Call Girl
What Maisie Knew
This Is Martin Bonner
Pluto (Myungwangsung)
The Conjuring
Il Futuro (The Future)
Battle of the Sexes
Shooting Bigfoot
We Are The Freaks

The worst film I saw was Not Another Happy Ending which was ill advisably chosen as the Closing Night Gala film.  The film was so bad that I actually left the cinema for a while just to avoid having to sit and watch it.  There was so much wrong with this film that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

For the most part the big titles that were on offer were OK but hardly left a big impact on me, with The Bling Ring and Monsters University being competent films but not memorable in the long run.  Other films that I saw by chance rather than by design that turned out to be great were Old Stock and 7 Boxes both easily watchable and with a likeable central cast.

There were a few titles that I didn’t manage to see.  I am sad to say that I missed Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction as the cinema encountered some problem with the soundtrack which resulted in it being unwatchable.  I also would have liked to have seen Frances Ha which I heard lots of good things about.

To summarise, Edinburgh was one of the best experiences that I have ever had, even if I did break two pairs of shoes and forget to bring a coat with me.  I was sad for it to end and wish that I could have seen everything that I wanted to.  All I can say is that I cannot wait for next year and can’t believe that I’ve been missing out on this for so long!

The Third Annual Mostly Film Edinburgh Film Festival Awards

In addition to the writers above, the MF Jury this year included EK McAlpine of Hi! Magazine and Siobhan Callas of Britflicks.com.

Best British Film

Most of the categories this year saw a number of different candidates, and Best British Film was the only one in which a clear victor emerged.  Although the documentary Fire in the Night was also mentioned, four out of five jurors voted for Everyone’s Going to Die.

Best International Film

While films from Sweden (Call Girl), Korea (Pluto), and America (This is Martin Bonner) were all nominated, the victor by a whisker was Noah Baumbach’s indie comedy Frances Ha.

Best Male Performance

Just about coming on top against Everyone’s Going to Die co-stars Rob Knifton and Steven the Cat,  Aiden Gillan won the award for his starring role in Mister John.

Best Female Performance

Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha
Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha

In one of the clearer victories of the awards, Greta Gerwig triumphed over close second Juno (Magic Magic)Temple for Frances Ha. This will doubtless add momentum to the campaign to get her an Oscar nomination.

Best Documentary

Votes went to Desert Runners, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction and A Story of Children and Film, but the winner was Battle of the Sexes.  The story of Billie Jean King’s tennis battle against unashamed chauvinist tennis champ Bobby Riggs is in cinemas now.

The Jessica Brown Findlay Award for Best Newcomer

Votes here went to Onata Aprile (who plays the title role in What Maisie Knew), and Jones (the Director of Everyone’s Going to Die). However, the winner was Jonny Owen, who plays the small town boy with big dreams in amiable British comedy Svengali.

Jonny receives his award, cunningly disguised as a cassette.
Jonny receives his award, cunningly disguised as a cassette.

Gareth Negus tweets here, and Sam Osborn here. Matthew Turner is the film writer for View London, and tweets here.

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