Edinburgh Film Festival: The highs and lows

The award-winning Leviathan. Picture: Edinburgh International Film Festival
The award-winning Leviathan. Picture: Edinburgh International Film Festival
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The opening and closing night galas of a film festival are often used to set the tone and encapsulate the spirit of the event as a whole, but they don’t always accurately reflect what happened in between.

Mercifully that proved to be the case with the 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival. It may have begun on a drab note with the classical music-themed adultery drama Breathe In and drawn to close last night with the rubbish, prophetically titled Scottish romcom Not Another Happy Ending, but artistic director Chris Fujiwara’s sophomore programme was generally much better and more interesting than his choices for either of the festival’s most high profile galas. The Michael Powell Award-winner Leviathan, for instance, was a stunning achievement – an experimental, artistically daring documentary portrait of the inner workings of a commercial fishing trawler that used cutting edge technology to provide a strange, immersive viewing experience. It’s exactly the type of film a festival such as Edinburgh should be championing and its success reflected another strong year for documentaries. Indeed, with Mahdi Fleifel’s A World Not Ours (a portrait of the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon) winning the International Competition and Fire in the Night (a moving account of the Piper Alpha disaster) taking the Audience Award, documentaries took each of the festival’s three main prizes. Is that a sign that fiction filmmakers need to start upping their game? Not necessarily. My favourite film of the festival, Upstream Colour, was also its most radical and exciting, and Scottish director Paul Wright’s excellent For Those in Peril, which received a special commendation from the Michael Powell Award jury, demonstrated real artistic ambition. More accessible American efforts such as The East, Frances Ha (which would surely have been a better choice of opening film) and What Maisie Knew also took narrative risks and consequently had a lot more energy than typical indie fare. On the other hand, some of the low-budget British films -- such as A Long Way from Home and We Are The Freaks -- felt stilted by comparison. If there didn’t seem to be a lot of buzz about any one movie, there did at least seem to be an appetite amongst the public for taking a chance on films they perhaps knew nothing about – even if that meant those opting for the surprise movie were confronted with the latest Richard Curtis opus About Time. For the most part though, the festival felt like it was continuing to move in the right direction -- even if its opening and closing night films suggested otherwise.

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