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Edinburgh film festival’s ‘risky’ opener praised

A still from Hyena, which will premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Picture: Contributed

A still from Hyena, which will premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Picture: Contributed

  • by BRIAN FERGUSON
 

THE director of a hard-hitting new British crime drama chosen to open the Edinburgh International Film Festival has praised organisers for choosing a “risky” curtain-raiser.

Gerard Johnson’s film Hyena tackles issued of police corruption, international gang warfare and sex-trafficking in modern-day London.

The English film-maker admitted the film would be seen as a controversial choice because of its violent content, declaring: “It’s not an easy watch.”

However he said the “bold” decision to open the festival with the film would help bolster its international reputation of the 68-year-old festival, which runs until 29 June.

Chris Fujiwara, the EIFF’s director, has insisted Hyena is an “exceptional example” of the kind of film the event has championed over the years.

However in the festival programme, Fujiwara described it as “a film of raw and unrestrained emotion,” and said it appeared to be “lacerated by the violence that its plot necessitates.”

Johnson, whose new film had its world premiere in Edinburgh, said: “I think they (EIFF’s organisers) just thought it was a very interesting film.

“It’s quite a controversial film to open the festival with. But you have to take risks as a film festival, that’s clearly what they’re doing.

“They want to be recognised and keep up with the best festivals in the world. It’s a bold move, but hopefully a distinctive choice.

“The film involves corrupt police and deals with criminal violence and human trafficking. It’s not an easy watch, but came about from years of research. We shadowed and worked with the police over the years and did a hell of a lot of research.

“It is a work of fiction but there’s nothing in the film that has not been in print or been in the news in London this year.”

Johnson and actor Peter Ferdinando, who is also his cousin, and plays the lead role as a corrupt police officer, have joined forces on Hyena five years after the director launched his debut, Tony, at the same event.

Debate has raged over whether the film festival has retained its profile since moving away from the other major summer events, but Johnson insisted it was still as highly regarded as ever within the British film industry.

He told The Scotsman: “When we screened Tony here five years ago it was actually the first festival we’d played the film at and we’re doing the same with Hyena.

“For me, to get into a major festival with your first film was a great coup. I’d known of Edinburgh for years as it is such a prestigious festival.

“The London Film Festival has recently been a bit more prevalent in that they have a lot more press these days, but the Edinburgh festival has all that history and it’s definitely the coolest out of the two.

“London never feels like a proper film festival to me. When you come to Edinburgh it feels like it seeps into the city, it feels like you’re really in a European festival.”

Before the opening gala got underway, Ferdinando said of the film: “It will definitely be interesting to see the reaction to the film.

“I don’t know if we’re going to have a predominantly conservative audience as it’s the opening gala. I think it will definitely raise a few eyebrows. There will be people who will love the film and others will be shocked by it, but I don’t think it’s that shocking, really.” Speaking on the red carpet, Fujiwara said: “I thought it (Hyena) was a film that could grab a fairly diverse audience. “To some extent it observes the conventions of a thriller and the story of a cop playing both sides against the middle. But the thing that really drew me to it was what a stylish film it is and how beautiful it is.

“The word beauty maybe doesn’t seem such a logical word for such a violent film, but I thought if was beautiful visually and also emotionally. Anyone who sees it will have seen more violent films.”

Fujiwara pointed out that the festival would end with a “feel-good” film, the American romantic comedy We’ll Never Have Paris.

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