Brian Ferguson: Edinburgh’s getting its act together

EDINBURGH’S film festival is finally dragging itself out of the doldrums, writes Brian Ferguson

Mr Adams debut programme is stamped through with Scottish talent on and off screen. Picture: Lesley Martin

IT WAS one of the most star-studded affairs in the long and illustrious history of the Edinburgh Festivals. Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Charlize Theron, John Hurt and Tilda Swinton were among those spotted entering the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the world’s longest-running film festival.

With Sir Sean Connery presiding over the event as it basked in the international media limelight, and a new artistic director, Hannah McGill, in place to take charge of the event’s next chapter, its future seemed secure.

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But within 12 months, it was announced that it was moving away from the main summer festivals period - and would be staged two months earlier, from the middle of June. If many eyebrows were raised in the film industry, no-one could have predicted what was to follow. The shift began a long, difficult and at times traumatic journey for one of Scotland’s flagship events, which would see the departure of an assortment of figureheads, the loss of crucial funding, dwindling audiences and – crucially – the festival missing out on key premieres.

When it emerged last September that artistic director Chris Fujiwara was stepping down after just three years, there was an unmistakable feeling that the event was almost back at square one. And when it was announced in December that his replacement, film critic Mark Adams, was unable to start until March – three months before this year’s festival – it felt like he had been left with an extremely tall order.

It is fair to say there is a lingering feeling among certain figures at the film festival that it has been unfairly maligned in the media over the last decade. Many of its harshest critics – and I certainly don’t count myself among them – would contend that its wounds were almost entirely self-inflicted.

So the festival team, and Mr Adams in particular, deserve huge credit for the programme they have pulled together against the tightest of deadlines.

At a stroke, the festival has scotched two well-rehearsed theories – that it is no longer a high-profile enough event to host the world premiere of major Scottish movies and that it suffers from being too close to Cannes in the calendar to secure any of its new films.

There has been a huge increase in the number of UK, European and world premieres from Mr Fujiwara’s swansong – and Mr Adams’ debut programme is stamped through with Scottish talent on and off screen.

With the likes of Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Peter Mullan, James Cosmo and Karen Gillan expected at the festival, it already feels like the event has turned a hugely significant corner ahead of next year’s 70th birthday celebrations.