The celebrated Chinese film-maker Wang Bing, the cult Japanese “cyber-punk” director Shinya Tsukamoto and the noted Russian documentary maker, Viktor Kossakosky, didn’t quite get the attention they deserved last week.
Perhaps, frankly, because most of us have never heard of them. But they are three reasons to be cheerful about the future of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, under its new director Chris Fujiwara, after the full programme of some 150 films was unveiled on Wednesday.
The three men will be among the festival’s leading guests, it was announced, with multiple screenings and masterclasses. But their names got a bit lost in the wash of last week’s festival launches, with Edinburgh’s summer arts season getting fully into its stride.
Press coverage instead centred on the star power of the very Scottish Pixar fantasy Brave, or the opener, Killer Joe, by the director of The Exorcist. The film trade singled out films with mainstream European or American cast and crew, from Shadow Dancer to Pusher.
Celebrities and star premieres do not exactly leap out all over the festival’s programme. As the Fringe unveiled its own 2,695 offerings, there was Dylan Moran or David Hasselhoff to think about, along with about 2,000 theatre and comedy shows.
But to set the record straight: Wang Bing, in particular, is one of the best documentary-makers in Asia, which makes him one of the greatest in the world, who has pushed the boundaries of his art and his country’s political history. His films probe China’s 20th-century hinterland, from a nine-hour epic centred on a dying factory town, West of the Tracks, to shorts like Brutality Factory, recreating one of the show trials of the Cultural Revolution.
West of the Tracks won’t be in the festival, but Brutality Factory will, along with three other films by Wang Bing, and hopefully the man himself.
The Edinburgh film festival will never be Cannes, but the programme Fujiwara outlined was a light-footed and clever restatement of Edinburgh’s values. More importantly it was a promising start under a new boss for a festival that needs to get back on its feet after what was nearly a career-ending 2011; a festival, which like other Edinburgh festivals has a rich post-war history but must be nimble in the face of mounting competition, and avoid becoming “circuit” events where familiar Scottish or UK talent make the rounds.
In his original, directed content, Fujiwara has included a showcase of the “Philippine New Wave”, with no less than a dozen screenings. There are the 13 films by the “neglected master of Japanese cinema”, the late Shinji Somaj – claimed to be as universal in their treatment of rebellious teenage girls in Japan as the Twilight series or The Hunger Games here.
Another strand is “Looking South”, six films celebrating the “vitality” of the genre in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. The three films by Tsukamoto include Body Hammer, when a young man is kidnapped by cyberborgs but fury turns him into a “gigantic human weapon”.These film-makers have already, apparently, begun to draw UK and international interest after the festival quietly slipped the word out to fan communities that they were on their way.
There are 150 films, including a new digital restoration of the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia, but the programme has an original flavour. With a global reach, it is well-matched with the Edinburgh International Festival director Jonathan Mills’ taste for Asian outreach. Interesting to see how the two might work together.
Some of it will fall flat on its face; parts will be a hard sell. But it is billed as challenging fare for culturally demanding Edinburgh audiences.
If Fujiwara stays in Edinburgh, don’t expect predictability. A US film critic and writer, his latest book is on Jerry Lewis, the American master of slapstick whose films include the first Nutty Professor. He’s written others on Otto Preminger, and Jacques Tourneur, the French director of period classics such as I Walked with a Zombie.
Fujiwara says he’s creating what in a sense is a brand-new festival, but taking advantage of its 65-year old history. He wants every year to be an “honest and adventurous look at what film is like now”.
He has already, importantly, redefined the Edinburgh film festival as something quite different from Glasgow’s. “We are very excited,” he said this week. “It’s about the possibilities of discovery, of new films and new experiences.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West