Andrew Eaton-Lewis: Edinburgh film festival doing what matters

DID I miss something, or has a consensus emerged around the idea that it’s time to cut the Edinburgh International Film Festival some slack? The launch of its 2013 programme on Wednesday was notable for the lack of controversy.

EIFF artistic director Chris Fujiwara. Picture: TSPL
EIFF artistic director Chris Fujiwara. Picture: TSPL
EIFF artistic director Chris Fujiwara. Picture: TSPL

The absence of Filth, the James McAvoy-starring adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel, hasn’t become an issue in the way We Need To Talk About Kevin’s glaring absence did in 2011 – this despite its 27 September Scottish release being announced the same day.

And so far, the EIFF is making almost no promises about glamorous guests. This was, at one time, regularly used as a stick to beat the festival with – what is a film festival without red carpet photocalls? And yet this doesn’t seem to be a cause for concern either.

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For the record, I care about neither, I just find the generally upbeat reception interesting and refreshing. Much of it can be credited to the steady hand of new artistic director Chris Fujiwara, and a PR strategy that actually feels like a strategy. Where the EIFF spent 2010 and 2011 alternating between excitable, clumsily handled announcements and frantic backtracking, Fujiwara has just quietly got on with the job of rebuilding the festival’s shaky reputation, and letting people know what he’s up to when he’s good and ready. And he’s done this not with gimmicky attempts at reinvention, just solid, imaginative programming of new films from across the world (146 in all, from 53 countries).

It’s hard to say how strong a programme this year’s is, since most of the films are unhyped and unfamiliar (checking online on Friday, I couldn’t find a trailer for either the opening or closing films). But it’s a big, eclectic, accessible selection, which the brochure helps you to navigate both by section (family galas, late night movies, animation, films from Korea and Sweden) and by theme (conspiracy, memory, coming of age, crime).

There will, probably, be those who continue to say Edinburgh’s best years are behind it, that it should have stayed in August, that it doesn’t have the resources or industry clout it once had. From what I can see, its current incarnation calmly sidesteps those criticisms. It’s not Cannes, obviously, but it’s a festival for its times. The internet has broadened a lot of people’s cultural horizons (mine included); being able to instantly access reviews and clips of hundreds of films makes a festival of all-new movies instantly more inclusive. Film festivals, in the end, are not about celebrity or industry deal-making. They’re about people getting to watch lots of interesting movies. By that yardstick, this one’s doing perfectly well. «

Twitter: @Aeatonlewis

» Last week Andrew... stayed up until 2am watching Beaches with his wife, who had just realised she hadn’t seen the old Bette Midler weepie in 20 years. Unmoved by Wind Beneath My Wings, but the dog is very funny.