'It feels like the first in a way,' artistic director Hannah McGill told the opening-night crowd at Edinburgh's Cineworld Cinemas (a post-screening party will be held at Teviot Row House. She was joined on stage by stars Knightley, Miller, and Matthew Rhys (Cillian Murphy couldn't attend) as well as screenwriter Sharman Macdonald, producers Sarah Radclyffe and Rebekah Gilbertson, and director John Maybury.
Maybury said: 'It's an amazing privilege to be the gala screening to open this festival. Edinburgh has been so important to me.' He won the festival's Michael Powell Award a decade ago for Love Is The Devil.
It's not just the dates that have changed, EIFF now has a funding boost of $3.7m over the next three years from the UK Film Council, which wants to position the event as a must-attend 'festival of discovery' with more industry activities. (This year's total festival budget is about $3.8m, up from about $2.4m in 2007.)
A 62-year-old event doesn't change overnight, however. Festival managing director Ginnie Atkinson told ScreenDaily: 'We have a three year plan, the first is to transition with the date change, the second will be developing the UK side of the event and the third year will look at our international plans.'
UK distributor Justin Marciano of Revolver Entertainment says EIFF's long-standing reputation (it's the longest continually running film festival in the world) helps it attract the calibre of films it does. 'The festival has a good reputation, particularly among film-makers. The audiences seem to come explore new films and that's always a good thing. Edinburgh has always been a good launch pad for starting buzz on a film.'
Atkinson said Wednesday afternoon that ticket sales had been brisk ahead of the launch, but she noted that the festival wasn't necessarily trying to match last year's August ticket sales when the city was overflowing with Fringe attendees. 'We need to grow and develop a new section of the audience,' she says. 'We're pleased because the feedback we've had on this year's sales is that there will be more of a local Edinburgh audience.' Screenings selling particularly well include The Edge Of Love, Somers Town, Of Time & The City, The Kreutzer Sonata, and Donkey Punch.
There are a record number of industry events planned this year. Still, some question how much the industry can embrace an event timed so soon after Cannes (and also overlapping with next week's Cinema Expo in Amsterdam). UK distributors don't sound very optimistic that they could pick up hidden gems at the festival (although it's never impossible - last year Vertigo took on Alex Holdridge's charming US indie romance In Search Of a Midnight Kiss after its very well-received screening in Edinburgh).
There certainly isn't an official market here - one top UK salesperson notes: 'It's not really meaningful for UK sales community as buyers don't go.' Yet it is timed to lead into Film London's London UK Film Focus event which brings foreign buyers into the capital starting June 30.
But with Edinburgh four-plus hours by train from London, some have said there will be little ties between the events, certainly no official links. Some UK sales agents will venture north, especially if they haven't closed UK deals on EIFF titles. 'I am not sure that the change in dates will encourage more buyers to attend Edinburgh. I think buyers will attend one or the other,' another seller noted.
Mary Davies, head of Edinburgh's industry office, noted that the festival would have at least as many industry delegates as last year's 600. 'It could be more, people are still registering,' she said Wednesday afternoon. In particular, the festival is welcoming more buyers from southern Europe than it traditionally did during August. For instance, TVE and Aquelarre Servicios Cinematograficos are the first Spanish buyers to attend EIFF.
'Europe shuts down in August so in June these attendees have exploded,' Davies says. For US attendees, she notes: 'The kind of people we get from the US tend to be New York based, and some of them usually come to LUFF so the events just work well together.'
Industry programmes shouldn't only focus on buying and selling, Davies says. 'We never set out to be a market, we think of ourselves as a marketplace that presents new films and buyers can see them with an enthusiastic audience. Also, a lot of what we do for delegates is training and events for emerging film-makers.' That cultural remit also extends to The Michael Powell Award for Best British Film, which this year has quadrupled its cash prize to about $39,000.
Industry panellists and speakers will include Shane Meadows, Ray Harryhausen, Errol Morris Jeremy Brock, Duncan Kenworthy, David Flynn of UTA, and funders from the UK, Sweden, Belgium France and Germany.
Other new industry initiatives include a Film4-backed Lab and the Cine-Euro Co-Production Training Programme for eight producers, run by Cine-Regio and Film Export UK with Screen South and Skillset.
The date change will certainly help film to take more attention in the city, rather than being overshadowed by the Fringe festival in August. Marciano, managing director of Revolver, says that the festival provides a key UK launchpad for its late August release, The Wackness. Revolver will be offering a special public graffiti painting event and breakdancing exhibition on Friday ahead of the first festival screening that evening. 'We wanted to play a part in the festival, not just hand them a film. We think Edinburgh is going to be a really good launch pad for the film, which we'll then build slowly over the summer. The [graffiti] event will be good for us and good for the festival.'
The festival continues through June 29, showing 15 world premieres and more than 140 features. Vito Rocco's Faintheart will close the festival.