Director Sam Mendes and actors John Krasinski and Carmen Ejogo flew into Scotland for the European premiere of their gentle road movie Away We Go, which opened the 63rd Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) on last night (June 17).

The opening night audience also included the festival’s longstanding patron Sir Sean Connery and industry luminaries serving on festival juries over the coming week, among them actors Alan Cumming and Kerry Fox.

At the press conference, Mendes said: “ I’m happy for the UK premiere to be here. Away We Go could have got lost at a festival like Cannes but I think it gets a better look in a place like this.”

The EIFF, which moved out of the city’s crowded August festival calendar last year, has sought to reposition itself as a festival of discovery, showcasing first and second features, and work at the cutting edge of technological innovation. The changes are back by a three-year funding boost of $3.1m (£1.88m) from the UK Film Council.

Its ambition of becoming the “Sundance of Europe” faces its strongest test this year with a programme that includes 23 world premieres and an abundance of new work from British filmmakers.

The Festival has recently added screenings of guaranteed crowd-pullers Ice Age 3: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs  and Lars von Trier’s controversial Antichrist alongside the traditional selection of highlights from Sundance, Toronto and Venice including The Maid, 35 Shots Of Rum, I’m Going To Explode and closing gala Adam.

The real indication of the festival’s calibre will come from the quality of the world premiere of unknown quantities such as Jan Dunn’s convent-set drama The Calling, Shane Meadows faux documentary Le Donk and Stuart Hazeldine’s psychological thriller Exam, which EIFF director Hannah McGill described as “impressively nasty”.

Last year, the festival saw attendance figures in excess of 50,000 with an increase in “walk up business”.