The Edinburgh Film Festival closed this weekend on a relatively upbeat note - and with new festival Director Chris Fujiwara (whose one year contract ends in September) eager to stay at the helm.
“I am very keen to continue and I certainly hope to,” Fujiwara said of his prospects of continuing in the job.
Former festival directors and critics attending the event have praised Fujiwara’s efforts to restore the event’s programming reputation after its well chronicled difficulties last year.
However, details of this year’s ticket sales are yet to be revealed.
The festival organisers have had a range of challenges to address this week, among them power cuts, cancellations of masterclasses and some sniping in the local press.
“It does seem to be in a couple of pieces that came out recently that there is almost a desire on the part of the Scottish press to see the festival fail,” Fujiwara told Screen. “Frankly, I find that bewildering. Why should the local press want to see a local festival fail? I don’t understand the reason for it.”
Victor Kossakovsky, the Russian director of Vivan Las Antipodas, had to cancel his scheduled visit when he failed to secure a visa in time. Actor (and Festival patron) Robert Carlyle missed his masterclass because of an operation but he did turn up at Thursday night’s Cineworld screening of his new film California Solo. At the end of a lengthy Q&A following the screening, Carlyle paid an emotional tribute to the Festival for programming the movie.
Other guests in town this week have included Elliott Gould, Jim Broadbent, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner and Peter Strickland. Meanwhile, Gina Gershon and William Friedkin provided opening night glamour with Killer Joe.
Festival figurehead Sean Connery was not in attendance. “Sean Connery leaves a huge hole whenever he is not somewhere. I spoke with him before the Festival and invited him. He very graciously thanked me for the invitation and informed me that he had been cutting back his travel significantly…he has a wonderful relationship with us. Just for selfish reasons, I wish I had been here in days when he was more of a presence here,” Fujiwara noted.
Strickland acknowledged that it was Fujiwara’s enthusiasm for his film Berberian Sound Studio that persuaded him to bring it to Edinburgh for its world premiere. It is understood that Fujiwara’s passionate lobbying also helped the Festival to land Miguel Gomez’s Berlinale hit Tabu.
“I am very pleased with the programme. I am very pleased with the response that we’ve had to it. The feedback that has reached me has been very positive,” Fujiwara said.
The Festival Director defended the decision not to include new Scottish feature Shell in the newly revived Michael Powell Award competition for best British film. This decision led to the film being withdrawn from the programme days before the event kicked off.
“It’s a regrettable misunderstanding. I am sorry that it took place and sorry that the Shell producers and director would not want to be part of the Festival if it were not in competition.” (The film, which is said to have narrowly missed out on a Cannes slot, is likely to now premiere at an international autumn festival.)
Fujiwara said that there were a number of other British films premiering in the festival that had also been kept out of the Michael Powell competition, among them Mark Cousins’ feature What Is This Film Called Love? He also spoke of his desire to “integrate” British cinema with world cinema within the programme.
“There were a number British films that I wanted to programme because I valued them. I felt that they deserved to be seen by audiences and I felt that they really would not benefit from being in competition…a competition selection tends to put a great weight on a film. Certain films because of their on-off nature, their experimental qualities, for a range of reasons, might be better seen in a different context than that of a competition.
However, other filmmakers have trumpeted the importance of a berth in competition and expressed sympathy with the Shell team.
“It was really important for us to be in competition. Otherwise, I would have wondered how we could stand out,” said Sonja Henrici, producer of Maja Borg’s experimental feature doc Future My Love (which was a Michael Powell contender.) “If it (the film) had been somewhere in the programme, I am not sure I would have been so happy about the world premiere here.”
If his contract is renewed, Fujiwara is keen to up EIFF’s industry profile and to build closer relations with UK distributors. “That’s clearly one of our objectives and it has to be. The festival needs to provide value to the industry.” Companies represented this year in the industry programme included Momentum, Soda, Magnolia, The Works, Bankside and High Point. There were reportedly almost 600 industry delegates and every day featured industry panels.
As for the vexed issue of Edinburgh’s dates, Fujiwara said he was potentially open to the event moving back into the main festival fold in August. However, he pointed out that the budget (reportedly £1.5m) for this year’s event was “very restrictive” and that further resources are needed urgently.
“It is clear that the budget is not sufficient for running a festival on the scale that our funders and sponsors desire.”