There have been slim pickings for cinephiles in recent years at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Curatorial complacency, half-baked retrospectives and its diminished position on the festival circuit have made it a bit of a non-event, with occasional gems like God’s Own Country the only thing stopping it from sliding into irrelevance. Not so this year.
Its days of securing major gala screenings — beyond the perennial Pixar premiere (this year’s is The Incredibles 2) — might be long gone, but the programme for the 72nd edition has plenty of promising-looking films of the type that often struggle to find a footing in an era of mega-blockbuster event cinema, year-end awards bait and Netflix.
Opening night film Puzzle, for instance, may not immediately scream “must-see cinema”, but the Kelly Macdonald-starring drama is the sort of character-driven work that can play well with audiences craving something that isn’t franchisable. The same might be said for Jon Hamm-starring spy thriller The Negotiator, Brie Larson’s directorial debut Unicorn Girl, gothic horror The Secret of Marrowbone and Australian comedy Flammable Children.
Critically acclaimed films from China (An Elephant Sitting Still), Paraguay (The Heiresses), Poland (Mug) and elsewhere should satisfy world cinema fans, while US director Nicolas Pesce’s sophomore feature, Piercing, looks like a cult film in the making.
But it’s closer to home where the real gems might emerge. Scottish and Scottish-based talent is well represented, with new projects from the likes of Kevin Macdonald (Whitney) and Mark Cousins (The Eyes of Orson Welles) premiering alongside some intriguing-sounding debuts, among them James Kelman’s first film as a screenwriter (Dirt Road to Lafayette), Matt Palmer’s Jack Lowden-starring thriller Calibre, and Anna and the Apocalypse, a zombie high school musical shot around Glasgow.