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The Prompt by Andrew Eaton

FOR months now, some of us have been wondering what on earth is going on with the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Finally, a few days ago, there was a big announcement. And now we're none the wiser.

The festival, it turns out, will not be appointing a new artistic director to replace Hannah McGill, and has instead appointed a producer, James Mullighan. But Mullighan won't be in charge, at least not at first; instead he'll be helping to realise ideas dreamed up by star actor Tilda Swinton and filmmaker friend Mark Cousins, who plan to "change the festival beyond recognition".

Depending on who you believe, this is either a breath of inspiring, audience-friendly fresh air thinking, or an ego-driven recipe for disaster. Both views are based largely on the fact that Swinton and Cousins have spent the last few years dreaming up idealistic, geeky and slightly whimsical "alternative" film festivals, one of which involved showing old movies and baking cakes in a bingo hall in Nairn, another of which involved 40 volunteers (Swinton and Cousins included) pulling a 33.5-tonne mobile cinema through the Highlands. Audiences loved the novelty of it, by all accounts, even if there were a few snide remarks about celebrity self-indulgence.

Is this kind of thing really what the Edinburgh International Film Festival needs? Possibly not; then again it's not necessarily what's on offer. Last week, Cousins compared his vision for the festival to Meltdown, in which established music stars are given freedom to curate their own offbeat programmes (mostly with great success). However, he also likened it to the Venice Biennale, a different kind of beast altogether.

Talking to Mullighan on Thursday, further details were elusive. Little appears to have been set in stone yet. Cousins, he told me, is drawing up a "screenplay" for the festival; Mullighan prefers the more practical sounding "blueprint", which suggests his job may be to rein in some of the wilder ideas. He won't officially start until 8 February, little more than four months before opening night, but he also hopes to launch the programme early, to provide more time for audiences to get used to the new style of festival.

I know and respect Mullighan, but that's a very short time to be assembling any kind of festival on this scale, let alone reinventing it based on the whims of someone else. I wish him luck. He'll need it.

 
 
 

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