The 70th edition of the longest continuously running film festival in the world sees Mark Adams, Diane Henderson and their team put together an eclectic blend of British film, US Indie fare, Experimental works and a variety of European and World cinema. The festival, as was the case last year, is bookended by two feature films with strong Scottish roots. Jason Connery’s ode to golf and famous fathers Tommy’s Honour (2016) receives its world premiere as this year’s opening night gala presentation (20:55 Wednesday 15th June, Festival Theatre). Whilst Gillies MacKinnon’s remake of the much loved Ealing comedy Whisky Galore! (2016) draws down the curtain on proceedings (17:15 Sunday 26th June, Festival Theatre). Whereas last year’s pairing of The Legend of Barney Thomson (2015) and Iona (2015) seemed somewhat unconventional gala screening fare, this year’s choices seem far more conservative and safely crowd-pleasing. Connery’s movie has the always dependable Peter Mullan taking on the role of Old Tom Morris, St Andrews most famous local hero. Whilst MacKinnon has assembled a strong comic cast for his adaptation of the Compton McKenzie book, headed by Gregor Fisher and Eddie Izzard.
The main festival programme consists of some tried and tested strands. The Best of British section showcases twenty new British features, including twelve world premieres. Attention will be grabbed by Mercedes Grower’s relationship drama Brakes (2016), which features a wealth of British comic talent, including Julia Davis (Jam, Nighty Night) and Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding from The Mighty Boosh. Scottish theatre director Graeme Maley has two Icelandic-based features screening. Pale Star (2015) was the director’s feature debut and is a grimly violent noir thriller about a woman trying to escape her abusive husband. A Reykjavik Porno (2016) is Maley’s latest release and once again plumbs the dark depths of strained Icelandic relationships. It is reassuring to see a number of British filmmakers working in European contexts and another film worth a mention in this regard is Ben Sharrock’s Pikadero (2015). This Basque romantic comedy with an absurdist bent sees Sharrock make good on the promise shown in his short film works, such as The Zealot (2012). The trend toward Europe as a location can also be found in Rita Osei’s debut feature Bliss! (2016), in which a teenage girl escapes her messy family situation in South Shields by boarding a ferry bound for Norway. There also appears to be a concerted effort to promote the strange and unusual among British cinema’s 2015/16 offerings. The world premiere of Henry Coombes Seat in Shadow (2016) seems to epitomise the festival’s embrace of a more avant-garde cinema in 2016. At the opposite end of the spectrum there are films that will certainly have popular appeal in the form of Rachel Tunnard’s Adult Life Skills (2016) – which premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival – and Philip John’s slinky coming-of-age Scottish road movie, Moon Dogs (2016).
The best of American independent cinema is showcased in the American Dreams section of the programme. There are a number of UK and European premieres here, including Greta Gerwig’s latest vehicle Maggie’s Plan (2015) and Paco Cabezas’ quirky dance comedy Mr. Right (2015), featuring Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick. Among the handful of world premieres in this section Amanda Sharp’s feature debut Sticky Notes (2016) pairs Ray Liotta with young Scottish actress Rose Leslie, as father and daughter. Neither Wolf Nor Dog (2016) is another US feature receiving its premiere at Edinburgh. Steven Lewis Simpson has put together an intriguing adaptation of Kent Nerburn’s bestselling novel. It is a road movie, but one that takes an unusual route through Native American lands. One of the refreshing aspects of this year’s programme is the strong presence of female filmmaker’s, particularly within this programme strand. Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits (2015) is a fascinating study of gender and performance that explores the life of an 11-year-old tomboy caught between the worlds of boxing and dance. Whilst Hollywood star Meg Ryan makes her directorial debut with the period drama Ithaca (2015) and Rebecca Miller directs Gerwig and Ethan Hawke in the aforementioned Maggie’s Plan.
For those filmgoers who map the cinematic landscape through the deceptively well-defined promontories of contemporary auteurs there are a number of features within the Director’s Showcase section that should intrigue. Thomas Vinterberg’s latest effort The Commune (2016) is set to receive its UK Premiere. Whilst Mexican eccentric Arturo Ripstein brings us another twisted, nightmarish vision in the form of his 2015 work Bleak Street, which focuses on the rivalry of two diminutive wrestlers. Cinema Paradiso (1988) director Giuseppe Tornatore sees his latest The Correspondence (2015) receive its UK Premiere. The film was shot on location in Edinburgh and stars Jeremy Irons and Olga Kurylenko. Taika Waititi follows up the critical and commercial success of What We Do in the Shadows (2014) with the quirky odd-couple black comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), which looks set to be one of the most popular films of the festival. There are also new works from Ira Sachs, Isabel Coixet and the unique Bahman Ghobadi. The festival has Kevin Smith making an appearance for an ‘In Person’ on Wednesday 22nd June at 20:30 in the Traverse Theatre. He also has two films at this year’s festival. One of them, Yoga Hosers (2015), is a major entry in the Director’s Showcase section.
The section that turns a spotlight upon European film production, European Perspectives, has pleased me no end by selecting Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s dementedly entertaining and entirely distinctive debut feature The Lure (2015). This film received great word of mouth at both last year’s Gdynia Film Festival and this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It is an unusual blend of comedy, horror and musical that manages to dance to its own peculiar rhythm. By no means a perfect film, it is nonetheless one of the most bracing debuts to have come out of Poland in recent years and is well worth greater attention. The Irish-Dutch co-production Mammal (2016) from Rebecca Daly is a film that benefits from an incredible performance by the underappreciated Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under, Jude). It has been a very good few years in the Hungarian film industry what with the likes of Son of Saul (2015), White God (2014) and Lily Lane (2016) all drawing awards and varying degrees of critical acclaim. Balazs Juszt’s debut feature The Man Who Was Thursday (2015), inspired by a G.K. Chesterton novel, is set to further this trend; it is also one of the few films in this strand that is receiving its world premiere at Edinburgh. Some attention should also be given to the Estonian director Kadri Kousaar’s jet black murder-comedy Mother (2016), one of the darkest and funniest films of the year. Finally, there is a lilting family drama called Sparrows (2015) that in its own quiet way will surely win over a festival audience to its humble delights.
Looking at the wider global trends in cinema this year’s World Perspectives section has done a very good job of picking up a decent array of films from production hotspots such as Argentina, Iran and India. Pan Nalin’s Indian independent Angry Indian Goddesses (2015), about a group of young women getting together for a friend’s wedding in Goa, has bags of cross-over appeal, being both a highly provocative examination of a woman’s lot in contemporary India, as well as an entertaining and energetic comedy. Ariel Rotter’s sublime character study Incident Light (2015) is another film from this year’s programme that deserves as wide an audience as possible, if only to bear witness to a tremendous central performance from Argentine stalwart Erica Luis. There is also a UK Premiere for the Sundance winning Israeli feature Sand Storm which examines life in a Bedouin village community through the eyes of a wilful young college student called Layla. Finally, after Johnnie To’s appearance at last year’s Edinburgh Festival World Perspectives showcases a trio of the director’s protégés (Jevons Au, Frank Hui and Vicky Wong) in the UK Premiere of Hong Kong noir-actioner Trivisa (2016).
Two prodigiously gifted individuals are subjects of major films in this year’s Documentaries strand. In Becoming Zlatan (2015) Fredrik and Magnus Gertten put together an examination of the breakthrough to global prominence of Swedish superstar footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With such a charismatic and difficult figure at its centre this is almost certainly going to be a fascinating watch. Likewise, Steve Read and Rob Alexander’s Gary Numan: Android in La La Land (2016) has the electronic music innovator falling back in love with music after years of decline. Alexandru Belc’s delightful documentary Cinema, Mon Amour about Viktor Purice, one of the most ardent defenders of film projection in Romania, is definitely a must for the bona fide cinephile. The festival is also giving us another important World Premiere in the form of Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer’s gripping documentary about a culture clash between traditional values and progressivist ideals. Santoalla (2016) is a film well worth earmarking as a ‘must-see’, as it uses the documentary form to execute an intense real-life thriller.
Although the bulk of the festival screenings occur during daylight hours there is a strand of late night entertainment called Night Moves which seeks to inject a little of J. Hoberman’s Midnight Movie spirit into proceedings. There is a World Premiere for Nirpal Bhogal’s British supernatural horror First Born (2016), in which a young child is able to channel the forces of darkness with terrifying consequences. The Love Witch (2016) is Anna Biller’s homage to the 1960s occult sexploitation films of the likes of Jess Franco, but with a distinctly feminist twist. Even more provocative is Sion Sono’s daft Japanese sex comedy The Virgin Psychics (2015).
This year’s festival has chosen to focus upon contemporary Finnish cinema as the subject of a showcase. As well as a collection of Shorts there are six feature films screening, including the European Premiere of Christy Garland’s cheerleading documentary Cheer Up (2016). The Black Box series of experimental works this year comes with particularly high expectations, mainly because of the sheer quality of the selections. Central to the strand is the fortieth anniversary screening of Lizzie Borden’s essential work Regrouping (1976). This major event is accompanied by a retrospective collection of experimental films from the sixties and seventies, as well as a panel discussion upon the impact and legacy of Borden’s work. It is also worth noting the one-off screening of Lewis Klahr’s fascinating film collage Sixty Six (2015), which is receiving its UK Premiere on Tuesday 21st June at 18:00 in Filmhouse 3.
This year’s Shorts programme compiled by Lydia Beilby and her team is split into six themed sections (Sign Language, Fragments of the City, Flaming Creatures, Other Planes, Radical Transmissions and Voices from the Wilderness). Each section focuses upon how film engages the body and the senses in apprehending the world that surrounds us. The films come from as far afield as Brazil and Haiti, showcasing the very best in global short film. There is a separate presentation for Scottish Shorts, as well as a collection of Student Shorts, and a collection of films that focus attention upon female short filmmakers.
Film Fest Junior gives a UK Premiere to Finding Dory (2016) on Saturday 18th June at 14:00 in the Festival Theatre. There is also a UK Premiere for the children’s fantasy epic The Shamer’s Daughter (2015) which is a highly impressive Danish film based on the best-selling series of novels by Lene Kaarberbol. On the same day as the premiere of Finding Dory there is a 30th Anniversary screening of the cult 1980s fantasy film Highlander (1986), this is showing at Cineworld Fountainpark at 19:30. There is a retrospective strand looking at 70mm classics such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and the rarely seen Kurosawa epic Dersu Uzala (1975). French Cinéma du look of the 1980s and 1990s is also given a seven film retrospective, the highlight of which is undoubtedly the Leos Carax double-bill of Mauvais sang (1986) and Les amants du Pont-Neuf (1991). Finally, there is a wacky series of live action comic strip adaptations called Pow!!! which gives festival audiences an opportunity to see the likes of Flash Gordon (1980) and Popeye (1980) up on the big screen again.
The 70th edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival seems to be trying to once again to carve out some kind of space for the festival within the increasingly crowded and competitive international film festival calendar. By celebrating previous festival triumphs, like the anniversary screenings of Regrouping or Highlander, or offering greater exposure to experimental and short filmmakers this year’s programme clearly demonstrates a willingness to pursue, with genuine curiosity, the many facets of film culture. Here’s hoping that it enables you to find your way toward something new. Throughout the next eleven days of the festival I will be frequently posting reviews and comment pieces on screenings and events.