The Edinburgh International Film Festival (Eiff) closed its successful first June edition on June 29, completing the initial stage in its self-proclaimed mission to realise the event as the world's 'premiere festival of discovery'.
A traditional fixture in August, the film festival shifted dates to avoid the city's overcrowded festival season and to develop its own distinct space and audience. Significant financial backing from the UK Film Council and Scottish Screen appears to have paid off with the festival seeing a 3% increase in the 2007 admissions figure of 51,000 and a massive 20% rise in industry attendance - up to 800 delegates.
Still, most of those industry attendees said Edinburgh was a relaxed place to meet and network, not to 'do business'. Nor were there any high-profile acquisitions.
One strength a June festival offers is a summer film launchpad for UK distributors. 'The festival stands out more on its own in June,' says Lionsgate UK CEO Zygi Kamasa, who said the Eiff opening world premiere of his title The Edge Of Love was 'enormously useful'. He added: 'If we'd had a Wednesday night premiere in London's West End, it wouldn't have had anywhere near the attention we got from the Edinburgh event.'
As for artistic director Hannah McGill's second programme, there was a mixed critical response to the line-up of highlights from Toronto, Sundance and Berlin and a number of world premieres that included Christopher Doyle's Warsaw Dark, The Kreutzer Sonata, controversial low-budget horror title Mum And Dad and Kenny Glenaan's much-admired Summer.
Writing-directing-producing team Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy - pre-selected as Skillset Trailblazers - wowed Edinburgh with the world premiere of their feature debut Helen (it has also screened at the Sydney film festival and is set for other major festivals). The film is about a student who is hired to play a missing girl in a police reconstruction and is drawn to aspects of the girl's life. If the plotline sounds like a thriller, that is exactly where shorts, theatre and art-world veterans Lawlor and Molloy put their unique touch on the story, with its glacial pacing and elegant scenes. 'Helen is a tough piece of work; we see it as more of a risk-taking adventure that will let us get to make our second feature,' says Lawlor, who with his partner founded company Desperate Optimists.
Helen's budget of only $577,500 (£293,000) was raised from arts funders and Lawlor and Molloy shot the film over 14 days in four cities, on the pair's preferred medium of 35mm. 'For our next feature, we'd like to do something more aimed at theatrical release. Not just in terms of content, but in how we tell a story,' Lawlor says. The pair, Dublin-born but based in London, are in discussions with the UK Film Council and Irish Film Board for new projects, including the love story of an elderly couple who have to rob a bank to avoid poverty. They hope to shoot their second feature by summer 2009 with a larger budget than Helen, but still likely less than $2m (£1m).
Also, Suzie Halewood's Bigga Than Ben: A Russian's Guide To Ripping Off London was a slightly uneven debut - yet still offered a fresh take on a London subculture (review, ^p30). Halewood showed cheeky ways to enliven a low budget, and drew great performances from Andrei Chadov and Prince Caspian himself, Ben Barnes. Swipe Films has come on board for UK distribution and plans a September launch. Next up for Halewood is a project called Border about a Mexican man who looks for his daughter in Arizona, with Barnes again taking a key role.
Wendy Mitchell, with additional reporting from Allan Hunter.