Brian Ferguson: Film festival must pick premieres better

Elijah Wood's Set Fire to the Stars was a high point of the Edinburgh Film Festival
Elijah Wood's Set Fire to the Stars was a high point of the Edinburgh Film Festival
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THERE was an unmistakably familiar feeling as the closing credits began to roll. A likely contender for one of the best British films of the year – even with half the calendar left to unfold – had just been shown.

Billy Connolly and David Tennant have delivered arguably their best big-screen performances to date on What We Did On Our Holiday, the black comedy the pair made together on location in the Scottish Highlands last summer – but the screening wasn’t part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which drew to a close last night. It was one of several sneak previews of the film in the UK to drum up interest ahead of a planned release in September.

But the question is why an unashamedly Scottish film, with a cast brimming with leading Scottish and British actors, was not part of the UK’s longest-running film festival.

I had the same feeling almost exactly a year ago after catching an early preview of Filth. Many critics and the actor himself believe that the long-awaited adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s infamous book drew out the best performance of James McAvoy’s career, yet the film didn’t make it into Edinburgh’s programme last summer.

Frankly, it has not been a great 12 months for the EIFF when it comes to the ones that have seemingly slipped away. The “Proclaimers musical” Sunshine on Leith, prison drama Starred Up, Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman’s wartime epic The Railway Man, Scarlett Johansson’s alien chiller Under The Skin, God Help The Girl, the film debut from Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch and Edwyn Collins’s documentary The Possibilities Are Endless are among those that spring to mind.

The jury is still out on whether the film festival should be held in June. Artistic director Chris Fujiwara seems less enthusiastic about keeping the festival in June than chief executive Ken Hay, but a move seems unlikely.

The arguments in favour of the event taking centre stage in June are probably stronger now than they were in 2006-7 when the EIFF was wrestling with the dilemma of a breakaway from the other festivals. The EIFF not only needs room to breathe in the city, but it also needs major venues like the Festival Theatre for its biggest premieres, and the Traverse Theatre, its hub for delegates, both of which go like a fair in August.

The expansion of the Fringe over the last decade and the decision by new Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan to bring his event forward a week surely make a move back for the EIFF much less likely.

But there do appear to be valid questions for the festival to address on why so many high-profile new Scottish – and indeed British – films seem to be so elusive to one of the nation’s flagship cultural events.