Edinburgh International Film Festival: Lights, camera, action and 22 world premieres

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THE 64th Edinburgh International Film Festival unveiled its offerings yesterday with a programme aimed at securing its position as a "festival of discovery" for new British films.

• Hannah McGill (artistic director), right, and Diane Henderson (deputy artistic director) at the EIFF 2010 launch. Picture: Neil Hanna

The festival director, Hannah McGill, offered a line-up that includes 22 world premieres, and 62 UK premieres.

She said the event this year could genuinely claim its place as a "festival of discovery" for new British films in particular, with 80 per cent from directors only on their first or second film.

Highlights run from Jackboots on Whitehall, an absurd animated comedy of an alternative Second World War where the British Cabinet decamps to Scotland, to Restrepo, the prize-winning documentary on US soldiers in combat in Afghanistan.

There are new US comedies like Get Low, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, and hard-boiled French thrillers like 22 Bullets, starring Jean Reno.

But the heart of the festival is in British films like Third Star, a tragi-comic buddy movie about a seaside road trip for four friends in the shadow of terminal illness, revealed yesterday as the event's closing-night gala.

Confirmed celebrity guests this year include the Ugly Betty star America Ferrara, with The Dry Land, a film about a returning Iraqi veteran which she produced and stars in.

Star Trek star and leading British actor Sir Patrick Stewart will be in Edinburgh for much of the festival as chairman of its prize jury and on stage in the keynote BAFTA Scotland interview.

The British actress Thandie Newton is also expected in town as part of the cast of Huge, the debut feature from British comedian Ben Miller, of the Fringe and TV double-act Armstrong and Miller.

Film festival staff watched 1,500 feature films and 2,000 short films to put together this year's line-up.

The festival's role is increasingly important, as distributors pick up fewer British films, said Ms McGill. "We are showing more films than ever that have not got their route to the UK market, which is really great in terms of discovery," she said.

She promised "red carpets every night of the festival" but added: "Where the choice comes down to spending a lot of money on Hollywood stars for 24 hours or bringing the film-makers, the commitment I have made is to favour the film-makers."

International film ranges from Steven Soderbergh's And Everything is Going Fine to Werner Herzog's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, about a young man turned killer.

By contrast Outcast, regarded as a potential low-budget horror hit, was filmed in Edinburgh's Sighthill estate with the leading Scottish actress Kate Dickie. Films in the running for the Michael Powell Award for best new British feature film include Pelican Blood, from Ecosse Films, which explores the theme of youth suicide in the world of passionate bird-watchers.

There is a strong animation strand to this year's festival. Two highlights have already been announced: French animator Sylvain Chomet's new film, The Illusionist, set in Scotland, and Toy Story 3.

Offbeat fare ranges from A Spanking in Paradise, about a young Scottish human rights lawyer who gets a job running his uncle's brothel in Edinburgh, to a special screening of The Dunwich Horror, billed as the world's first "audio horror movie" – with a soundtrack but no pictures.

Three of the film festival's patrons – Sir Sean Connery, actress Tilda Swinton, and award-winning cinematographer Seamus McGarvey – will attend. The fourth, Robert Carlyle, is not expected in Edinburgh this year.

A retrospective section, After the Wave, will look at "lost and forgotten" British films from 1967-1979, like The Boy who Turned Yellow, the 1972 film from the classic partnership of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Whether this line-up includes overlooked gems, or justified flops, will presumably be up to audiences to decide.

The film critic Richard Mowe said of this year's line-up: "Maybe this is really the first year you can see the identity that Edinburgh is wanting to carve for itself, as the 'British Sundance'."

The Sundance film festival in Utah has established itself as the US festival where new, independent films have broken through to the mainstream.

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