Edinburgh International Film Festival loses £70k deal

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THE Edinburgh International Film Festival has lost a £70,000 annual funding deal from Standard Life, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.

The finance company's decision will be a heavy blow to the festival, which is already struggling with the end of a 1.9 million three-year grant from the UK Film Council.

Standard Life said its decision was part of a wider reorganisation of sponsorship programmes. The move came after the festival declared it was ditching awards and red carpet appearances by A-list stars that attracted widespread publicity.

The sponsorship blow comes at a time when Glasgow's Film Festival is burgeoning and some observers say it could emerge as a rival.

The savings and pensions giant appears as a "festival partner" at the top of the EIFF's list of sponsors for last year and it was thought to be its biggest commercial backer with the Standard Life logo on the programme cover. It was sponsor of its Audience Award and printed programme for 13 years.

A spokesman said: "We informed the film festival we would not be renewing sponsorship at the end of the year. We have been sponsoring (it] since 1997, and had a really good relationship, but we felt it had a natural end."

New beneficiaries of Standard Life's sponsorship include the GB Basketball team in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, at a time when arts organisations fear big sports events will suck cash away.

Festival organisers announced a radical overhaul of the event, abandoning awards, red carpets, and five-star hospitality for VIP guests in favour of innovation and change, at the end of last year. Casualties included the festival's 17-year-old Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature Film, backed by the UK Film Council, and the Audience Award, where the public rate their favourite films on ballots at screenings. The Audience Award's first winner in 1997 was The Full Monty. Others since included Billy Elliot, and Man On Wire.

Film festival director Hannah McGill - who raised its profile with celebrity guests - stepped down after last year's event, attended by Sir Sean Connery.

Gavin Miller, chief executive of the new Centre for the Moving Image, set up last year as the parent body of the film festival and the Edinburgh Filmhouse, said: "We have known for some time that (Standard Life's] objectives for sponsorship were changing. It's also a different world. It's less about sponsorship nowadays and more about partnership. There's a fantastic opportunity for new brands."

He added that CMI was about to appoint a head of commercial development.

Writer and film-maker Mark Cousins, one of the festival's new "creative advisers," had previously played down the significance of the awards, saying they did not compare to Cannes' or Venice's accolades and made little impact in the industry.

James Mullighan, named in December as the festival's producer, said he was grateful to Standard Life for past support but did not see the value of awards. He said: "I don't like the idea of films competing like triple jumpers. If a film is beautifully made and well-worked at a festival it will get press attention and audience attention." He added that films did not need a "medal" hung around their neck.