With a new director, the Edinburgh Film Festival (Aug 15-26) is hoping to enhance its reputation as the home of British film. Allan Hunter reports.
Everything is different and everything is the same at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (Eiff) this year. The first festival under artistic director Hannah McGill is a canny mixture of the traditional and the innovative that plays to Edinburgh's strengths for documentary, discovery and retrospectives.
It also includes a number of fresh industry events, led by Trailblazers, a focus on up-and-coming talent chosen from within the programme and from the graduation shorts submitted by students of the Skillset Screen Academies.
A film critic and fiction writer, McGill was a programmer under previous artistic director Shane Danielsen and her appointment has ensured a strong degree of continuity for one of the UK's biggest film events.
Her own distinctive touch may lie in steering Edinburgh back towards more conspicuously populist fare with screenings of Ratatouille, Knocked Up, Stardust and Death Proof. She believes the 2007 edition is a 'slightly more upbeat festival than people might expect from Edinburgh'.
McGill has also chosen to give the festival a theme, 'Cinema and the written word', which emphasises the craft of screenwriting and of adapting books into films. It is a theme that runs through the festival, from the retrospective devoted to Anita Loos, to onstage talks with screenwriters such as Paul Laverty, Irvine Welsh and Christopher Hampton.
It is also evident in screenings from opening-night presentation Hallam Foe, adapted from the Peter Jinks novel, to the restored Laurence Olivier adaptations of Shakespeare's Henry V (1944) and Hamlet (1948).
McGill is also seeking to capitalise on the atmosphere of Edinburgh in August where the film festival gains great benefits from being a vital part of the arts explosion in the city.
The written word theme has led to involvement with the city's book festival and international festival as well as a National Theatre of Scotland staging of David Greig's Uncommitted Crimes, an unmade film script based on Crime And Punishment.
McGill seems intent on underlining Edinburgh's status as the prime festival for British cinema. In the last few years, Edinburgh has hosted the world premieres of British titles including London To Brighton and Wah-Wah. This year's entries competing for the Michael Powell Award include Control, And When Did You Last See Your Father', The Waiting Room and Saxon. McGill has also added an award to honour the best performance in a British film.
Edinburgh cannot hope to compete with the lure of Venice or Toronto, hence the absence of high-profile UK titles such as Atonement and The Golden Age, but it has an enviable reputation for talent-spotting and serving as a place where alliances are forged, ideas exchanged and reputations made. Wah-Wah and The Flying Scotsman were the opening night galas in 2005 and 2006 respectively and both went on to secure UK theatrical distribution.
'Edinburgh can be a valuable launchpad for autumn releases,' says Robert Beeson, managing director of Artificial Eye, which has four films at the festival including Cannes competitors The Man From London and Chansons D'Amour.
'Edinburgh and Glasgow are the biggest markets outside of London and the south-east. Hannah understands the way distribution works and that most decisions about placing a film in Edinburgh or London are down to the release date. The Man From London is probably the exception but (the film's star) Tilda Swinton is the festival's patron and it just made more sense.'
Strengthening links with key UK distributors such as Walt Disney Smpi, Universal and Paramount, and convincing Martin Scorsese's World Film Foundation to stage a UK launch at Edinburgh, are the earliest testimonies to McGill's powers of persuasion and desire to honour Edinburgh's illustrious past while looking to the future.