What should immediately feel like a celebration of the classic with the cutting edge, reads more like a retread of past glories. Granted, some its most hyped events will doubtless be delightful (how can you fail with the already sold-out screening of ET with a live score?) and there are some of the usual highlights too, such as the festival’s ongoing status as the British launchpad for Pixar’s summer offerings (this year’s is Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory).
But this is also supposed to be a banner year, one in which all the stops are pulled out – and yet the biggest confirmed guest is indie stalwart Kevin Smith. That’s not to knock Smith, who’s a brilliant and hilarious raconteur and a boon guest for any festival. But the last time he was here for the 60th EIFF he was joined by the likes of Steven Soderbergh, Sigourney Weaver, Charlize Theron, Brian De Palma and the late Arthur Penn – all of whom delivered illuminating career talks. This year the festival has Kim Cattrall, whose movie career - and this is a film festival — isn’t exactly auspicious.
Of course it’s not always helpful to look at past festivals with rose-tinted glasses (the 60th did open with The Flying Scotsman). But even in the changed and increasingly crowded film festival landscape, EIFF can’t help but feel a bit behind the times. Indeed one of its retrospectives, POW!!! – about the early years of comic book movie adaptations – is almost the same as Glasgow Film Festival’s Kapow! strand from 2011.
As for the films in the regular programme, a few premium arthouse movies aside – Rebecca Miller’s Maggie’s Plan, Ira Sachs’s Little Men – distributors still seem reluctant to launch their bigger arthouse prospects (don’t look for Nicholas Winding Refn’s recent Cannes entry The Neon Demon; it ain’t there). But perhaps the rest of the programme will make it all worthwhile. There are certainly some promising titles – Little Sister, The Fits, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople among them – so here’s hoping.