This week’s Edinburgh International Film Festival (June 17-28) is turning the spotlight on first-time UK film-makers.
There was scant opportunity for new talents to make a name for themselves at Cannes last month, as risk-averse buyers opted for rock-steady projects and the big-ticket auteurs dominated the Competition.
24- Number of world premieres at Edinburgh
15 - Number of films eligible for the new international award
Flash forward a few weeks and the Edinburgh International Film Festival (June 17-28) is setting out its stall as one event dedicated to new talent.
Of course it will welcome its share of established film-makers: there are world premieres from Shane Meadows and Dario Argento, the international premiere of Sam Mendes’ Away We Go, which will open the festival, and the UK premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience.
But the event’s proximity to Cannes and the whims of the international release calendar have clearly affected the films available to Edinburgh’s programmers. So whether by design or default, this year’s festival is poised to ensure new film-making voices are heard.
When programming the festival, Hannah McGill, now in her third year as artistic director, says she has dealt with film-makers more directly than before: “Fewer of the films have sales plans or distributors attached as distributors remain more cautious about niche films.”
“People are aware of Edinburgh’s longevity and as a place where things can happen”
Hannah McGill, artistic director
For 2009, an international prize has been created for non-UK films making their world or international premiere at the event.
This will complement the Michael Powell award for best new British film. “We want to encourage more films to premiere at Edinburgh,” McGill admits.
When pitching the event to the international industry McGill says she emphasises the direct contact with film-makers it offers. “People are aware of Edinburgh’s longevity [this is the 63rd edition] and as a place where things can happen,” she suggests. “It’s also a much cheaper option for people who did not go to Berlin or Sundance.”
This year, expect to see overseas buyers from IFC Films, Magnolia Pictures, Kino International, Scanbox, Arsenal and Mongrel Media, among others. Mary Davies, the festival’s head of industry, points out that since Edinburgh moved forward to June from the European summer holiday month of August, French distributors such as Rezo Films and Pretty Pictures now attend. She says as many as half the invited buyers combine the trip to Scotland with the London UK Film Focus which starts as Edinburgh ends (June 29-July 2).
Six representatives from US talent agencies, including ICM, UTA, WME and The Gersh Agency, will also be at the festival as part of the Expo Project. This year the festival has a $182,000 (£110,000) grant from the Scottish government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund. “We introduce them to first Scottish, and then British new talent,” says Davies.
Last year, UK director Matthew Thompson screened his debut Dummy at the festival. Although it has never been released theatrically in the UK, Thompson secured a US agent at William Morris. “We like to have an influence on people’s future plans,” says McGill. “We try to make the industry aware of which films don’t have representation.”
There was a fizz of controversy in the run up to this year’s event when the festival was forced to return a $500 (£300) grant from the Israeli Embassy in the UK to help bring over Tel Aviv University graduate Tali Shalom Ezer to support her romantic drama, Surrogate. This followed pressure from leading UK industry figures including Ken Loach, to demonstrate solidarity with Palestine.
“All I want to do is help the film-makers,” explains McGill, who says the festival is now covering all Ezer’s costs to bring her to Edinburgh.