ONE of Britain’s leading cinema journalists has been handed the task of reviving the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Mark Adams, the chief film critic of industry magazine Screen International, will take up the post of artistic director in March – just three months before next year’s festival.
Adams has more than 25 years’ experience as a film programmer and reviewer. Although he is standing down from his role at Screen International he will continue as film critic for the Sunday Mirror.
The 54-year-old, from Leicestershire, takes over from US writer and critic Chris Fujiwara, who stepped down in September after less than three years.
It is understood Mr Fujiwara, whose tenure received a mixed reception from critics and audiences, agreed on an amicable parting of the ways after the festival struggled to attract the audience numbers it had reached under previous artistic directors.
Adams was previously head of programming at the National Film Theatre and director of cinema at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, both in London.
A key question for the new artistic director is whether the event should stay in its June slot, when it is the only major event on in Edinburgh, or move back to August. The EIFF has missed out on a number of major Scottish films in recent years, including Filth, Sunshine on Leith, Under The Skin and What We Did On Our Holiday.
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It is also facing a growing challenge from the Glasgow Film Festival, which is almost attracting as big an audience as the Edinburgh event, despite only being launched a decade ago.
Adams said: “I’m thrilled to be helping the Edinburgh International Film Festival develop and grow and am looking forward to bringing new, challenging, entertaining and exciting cinema to the city. This is a great festival that deserves its recognition and can only get better and better.”
Ken Hay, chief executive of the film festival, said: “We are delighted to have Mark joining the team. His passion for film, his fantastic experience as a programmer, journalist and critic, along with his reputation in the UK and internationally, make him the ideal choice to drive the future success of the festival.”
Wendy Mitchell, editor of Screen International, added: “Mark has done a fantastic job as our chief film critic and reviews editor. We look forward to collaborating with him in his role.”
The EIFF has struggled for funding since the UK Film Council - which had provided £1.9 million over three years to support the event’s move out of August - was scrapped by the Westminster Government. At the time the then artistic director, Hannah McGill, warned that the EIFF was facing “very challenging times,” but the funding gap was never bridged.
However the film festival enjoyed a major boost in October when it was awarded long-term funding of more than £1 million a year from arts agency Creative Scotland, a rise of 42 per cent.
Natalie Usher, Creative Scotland’s film director, said: “Mark has the commitment, vision and drive to build on the festival’s strengths and ensure its continuing success.”
Edinburgh-based film journalist and festivals organiser Richard Mowe said: “Mark is an excellent choice at this stage in the EIFF’s evolution.
“He is an industry professional who knows the business inside out and has impeccable contacts.
“I have observed him in operation at various film festivals across the globe and he is affable, approachable and extremely industrious - not traits he necessarily shares with some previous incumbents of the job.
“With his valuable address book and status he will be able to open doors for the EIFF and restore a sense of confidence in its mission within the industry upon whom it depends for support and encouragement.
“Such confidence and, indeed trust, has been missing in recent years and that has been reflected in attitudes to the festival, down-beat perceptions and an alleged fading reputation.
“If he can reverse that trend, provide stability and consistency, and make his own stamp, then one part of his mission will be accomplished.”
Alistair Harkness: ‘I want to see Adams put his stamp on the event quickly’
The appointment of film critic and programmer Mark Adams as the new artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival comes at an interesting time for the event.
Though the festival has gradually been building itself up again after its disastrous showing in 2011, June continues to feel like a bit of a cultural wasteland and increased competition from other international and domestic film festivals means that Adams will have his work cut out if EIFF is to remain relevant in these fast-changing times.
But there’s nothing like new blood to continue the ongoing process of renewal and, presuming things go well next year, he’ll have a big platform on which to showcase what the festival can really do when it celebrates its 70th edition in 2016.
What would be great to see in the first instance, though, is Adams putting his stamp on the festival quickly.
Though previous artistic director Chris Fujiwara’s choices were sometimes admirably bold and esoteric, he wasn’t particularly great at getting out in front of the festival and making a persuasive case for why the films he’d programmed mattered.
I don’t know Adams personally, but I know his work, and his role as the chief film critic for both the British-based trade magazine Screen International and the
Sunday Mirror newspaper should stand him in good stead for a job that requires a thorough understanding of the industry and an ability to communicate his passion and enthusiasm for film to the ticket-buying public.
His programming work for London’s premier arthouse venues – the National Film Theatre and the ICA – should also help him Adams hit the ground running when he officially takes up the post in March.
I wish him the best of luck.
• Alistair Harkness is The Scotsman’s film critic.
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