There were, it’s reasonable to assume, great waves of relief at Edinburgh International Film Festival when Brave was confirmed as this year’s closing night gala.
Had the festival NOT secured the UK premiere of Brave, the event’s hopes of restoring its reputation after last year’s well publicised problems could have been crippled.
Is that putting it too strongly? Maybe not. Brave is, as Alex Salmond put it today, “the most high profile film ever set in, and themed around, Scotland, featuring Scottish stars” - including Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson. It will be “much bigger than Braveheart”, according to Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, who are working with Disney on an unprecedented campaign to use the film to boost tourism - “the biggest campaign VisitScotland has ever launched”, Cantlay said a few days ago.
Clearly the centrepiece of this campaign should be a high profile Scottish premiere. And what do you know? The film’s US release date is 22 June, which coincides exactly with the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
In the circumstances, if Brave’s Scottish premiere hadn’t taken place at Scotland’s best known, longest running film festival, the damage to the festival’s image would potentially have been catastrophic.
EIFF director Chris Fujiwara’s choice of words today was telling. “Though we are an international film festival, we’re mindful that we have a special responsibility to Scotland’s cinematic image. It makes perfect sense that this film, which is so strongly tied to the cultural mythology of Scotland and the beauty of the Scottish landscape, and in which Scottish talent has such a significant involvement, should be part of our festival.”
In other words, screening Brave was a decision he gave long and careful thought to before concluding it would be in the best interests of everyone - rather than, say, an opportunity the festival desperately wanted and needed right now, for which they would have happily sold Disney their own mothers. Announcing the film in this laid-back, dignified way is a smart move on Fujiwara’s part. Let VisitScotland and the Scottish Government look needy and excitable, while the EIFF, quiet and self-assured, just gets on with the job without any fuss.
Fuss, after all, was what got the EIFF into so much trouble last year - all that heady talk of reinvention that, in the end, mostly just ditched some perfectly good, long-established ideas without managing to replace them with equally effective new ones.
If you have any doubts about the importance of Brave to the EIFF, consider that one of the most common criticisms of last year’s festival was the conspicuous absence of We Need To Talk About Kevin - a hugely acclaimed film by a Scottish director, Lynne Ramsay, whose previous films had all screened at the EIFF, and who is so highly regarded that her comeback was eagerly anticipated long before anyone had seen the movie. It even had Tilda Swinton - who was supposedly busy reimagining the EIFF with her friend Mark Cousins - in the lead role. It was a screamingly obvious choice for an opening or closing night movie, and yet it wasn’t even in the programme.
Why this happened doesn’t, in the end, matter very much. And it is arguably very unfair that a whole festival, consisting of hundreds of films, should be judged on the presence or absence of a single film. But the fact is that, at a time when the festival was struggling to assert its identity and continued relevance with the media and the public, the absence of We Need To Talk About Kevin became symbolic - if the festival couldn’t get that one right, what could it get right?
Thank heavens, then, that Brave IS showing at the EIFF this year - this year’s potential symbol of failure has now been eliminated and, with a single announcement, Chris Fujiwara has bought his festival a significant amount of goodwill. Like everyone else, I’ll be very interested to see what he does next.
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