Brian Ferguson: The dates dilemma facing the EIFF

Artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Mark Adams

Artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Mark Adams

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THERE was something telling in the timing of the Edinburgh International Film Festival finally unveiling its new artistic director the other night.

Mark Adams, a widely-respected UK film critic, had been appointed three months previously – after the surprise departure of Chris Fujiwara, the enigmatic figurehead of the event for just three years. Last week’s gathering in the Caley hotel, a stone’s throw from the festival’s base at the Filmhouse cinema, was the first chance for many of its supporters to hear from the new man at the helm.

A familiar figure to many in the room thanks to regular visits to the film festival since the 1980s, he spoke briefly but made it clear how well-regarded the event is internationally and that he already has big ambitions for its future.

Earlier, there was a chance for journalists to pose questions to Mr Adams, who has inherited responsibility for the event at a crucial crossroads in its history. On first evidence, he appears sure-footed and full of enthusiasm for the task ahead.

Intriguingly, less than 24 hours later the Edinburgh International Festival was launching its own new era, firstly at a media launch at the Hub and then in the lavish setting of the Usher Hall’s auditorium.

Fergus Linehan may have been appointed almost two years previously, but for the hundreds of guests packing into the city’s flagship concert hall, this was their first opportunity to hear him lay out his vision. Of the many changes Linehan has ordered, arguably the most daring has been to bring its dates into line with the Fringe for the first time in 18 years. A long-standing insistence that musicians and companies would not come to Edinburgh in early August was swept aside by the Irishman.

Mr Adams, to his credit, is clearly also open-minded about the issue which continues to dog his festival – to the consternation of some staff and critics – and he did not shirk the question of whether it will move back to August.

He will lead a fresh investigation into the feasibility of rejoining the festival throng, which has added impetus now that the EIFF will run alongside the big beast of the Fringe, as well as the Tattoo, the book festival and, crucially, the TV industry’s annual summit in the city.

The film festival is left on the outside, looking in, at the world’s biggest arts festival. Frankly, it is out of the loop.

No-one, least of all Mr Adams, is pretending it would be easy for the EIFF to move back to August, especially without the promise of serious financial backing from the Scottish Government to match its rhetoric on its support for the screen sector. But if the city and the country is serious about securing the future of its major events, a return to the fold needs serious examination.

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