The Edinburgh Dialogues #5: Shane Danielsen

A few of my more sharp-eyed readers may notice that this is not, in fact, Shane Danielsen. Claudia Cardinale in Valerio Zurlini’s GIRL WITH A SUITCASE. Shane suggested, wrongly I feel, that this would make a more attractive start to the article than a portrait of him.

 

THIS PIECE IS COPYRIGHT BY THE AUTHORS.

Shane Danielsen was Artistic Director of Edinburgh International Film Festival from 2002-6, having first attended in 2000 as curator of the Max Ophuls retrospective. During his time, Edinburgh saw some memorable events and screenings, and retrospectives particularly to my taste: Mitchell Leisen and Henri-Georges Clouzot, as well as Valerio Zurlini whom I hadn’t even heard of. He conducted memorable onstage interviews with Liv Ullman, Steven Soderbergh, Charlize Theron and George Romero. And the new films at Edinburgh were a choice bunch.

Shane arrived with a reputation for passion and even violence, but the only incident I heard of in that line was the delivery of a strongly-phrased three-word sentence  to former Tory cabinet minister Michael Portillo, which struck me as entirely appropriate in the circumstances.

The following conversation was conducted by email, and Shane is his usual out-spoken self. I don’t always agree with Shane but I always find him entertaining, even as I wince on behalf of those who become his targets (including, below, film bloggers and those who read them).

John Huston said this, of Edinburgh — in 1972.

DC: I’m starting off by asking people about their favourite memories of the Festival.

SD: Okay, here’s the thing: I’m not that interested in talking about my time there – mostly, because I don’t think it’s especially helpful to where we are now. Nostalgia for some perceived golden age – be it Jim Hickey’s time, or Murray Grigor’s, or Lizzie’s – is honestly the last thing Edinburgh needs at present, given the state the festival is in and the severity of the choices confronting it.

But there’s also another reason, which is why I said I was hesitant, initially, to do this interview. And that’s that Edinburgh is – as my friend Derek Elley often noted – a festival haunted to an unusual degree by the ghosts of directors past. All rattling their chains and moaning to anyone who’ll listen that, were they still in charge, they would have done it all sooooo differently . . . It’s tedious, and redundant – and also kind of dishonest, because it fails to acknowledge that time has passed since then, the film industry has changed (quite profoundly, in fact), and as a result, so has the place that festivals like EIFF occupy within it.

So when I left Edinburgh, I vowed that I wouldn’t speak of my time there publicly again. I wouldn’t comment on subsequent festivals; I wouldn’t turn up and hang around like some grandee – which always struck me, frankly, as the height of bad taste. Hannah deserved rather better, I thought, than yet another Banquo at her feast. Her first year, I didn’t even look at the programme. I was in Berlin, reading and writing and, I suppose, just enjoying being in a city that excited me again.

Hannah McGill.

DC: I’ll just say, in defense of everyone who’s talked to me so far, they were all very anxious NOT to be seen as sniping from the sidelines or harking back to a bygone age.

SD: They might not choose to here, in this forum and at this time, but that’s not to say it isn’t a recurring, and regrettable, tendency. I remember all too well, when I took the (to-my-mind eminently justifiable) decision not to programme Richard Jobson’s “A Woman In Winter,” the carping from certain ex-directors – never to my face, of course – about how I was letting down the side and not supporting Scottish filmmaking . . . Which of course brings into play all kind of issues about nationalism and funding and special pleading, too complicated and tedious to get into here.

I endured this, mostly, with polite forbearance. When, really, what I wanted to say was, Mind your own business. You had your time; you made your choices. Now kindly do me the courtesy of fucking off and letting me make mine. I didn’t agree with all of Hannah’s decisions – how could I? we’re different people, with different tastes – but I did think that a lot of what she did constituted an ingenious solution to certain problems, as well as a necessary response to certain external pressures – which we can, and should, discuss later. But whether I happened to agree or not didn’t actually matter. Because it wasn’t my show anymore, it was hers, and I should – and did – accord her the respect of not throwing in my unasked two cents’ worth.

[DC: I haven’t seen A WOMAN IN WINTER. I have seen Jobson’s previous film, THE PURIFIERS, an unofficial remake of THE WARRIORS. Starring martial artists. Shot in Milton Keynes. So I can imagine the decision not to screen his movie in an International Film Festival being justified, despite it’s being Scottish product: there does have to be a quality threshold. But as I say, I haven’t seen the film in question.]

But I mention this mostly, I suppose, because Edinburgh has always been prey to an especially virulent strain of nostalgia – part of which, admittedly, it brings upon itself, with its endless looking-back: “The oldest continually running film festival in the world,” “John Huston said he gave a damn …” blah blah blah. I remember trying in vain to move the debate on from this – now, I think, the festival has no choice. Because in the radically accelerated environment of the digital world we inhabit – a world in which artistic scarcity is a thing of the past, and not only historical context but the very notion of programming are increasingly imperiled (since works from all times and places are almost instantly accessible, to be consumed on-demand and in ways that exclude traditional cinema or festival environments) – that kind of anecdotal history means less and less.

I’d also argue that 2011 marks such a rupture in the history of the festival, that the chain of continuity has been broken anyway. And so, après le deluge, it’s probably time to speak out.

DC: A big topic of discussion has been the date change from August to June.

I don’t want to go on about dates except to note two things:

Firstly, let’s acknowledge, shall we, that there is no ideal time of the year to hold a film festival. None. There might have been in 1963, or even 1993. But today? No. Not with four thousand bloody festivals out there.

Secondly, and more importantly, how come no one is placing some of the blame for the ‘disaster’ that was the shift to June – if indeed it was such a disaster – where it belongs? Which is not with Hannah, or Ginnie, but with the UK Film Council, and specifically Pete Buckingham. Who basically strong-armed EIFF into accepting a date-change (from August to June) and becoming a particular thing (a “festival of discovery” a la Sundance, leaving the “festival of spangles and riches” for London). Otherwise, no cash from the UKFC, thank you very much.

And then, when it isn’t an unqualified success, he’s screaming at Hannah for “not getting it right” (er, getting what right, Pete? you mean that vague, half-assed plan you were told from the outset wouldn’t work?), while cheerfully disavowing any hint of responsibility to everyone else who asked. Now, of course, he’s walked away from the burnt carcass of the Film Council and slid across to the BFI, sound as a pound. You couldn’t make it up.

I have a reputation for being somewhat . . . outspoken, I know. But can you be surprised, when this kind of shit goes on, and nobody calls anyone out on it? I can only conclude it’s a British thing, where you’d prefer to grumble about things, to chafe under the yoke, rather than actually stand up for yourself. But I’m afraid I’m not like that. I’ve got more pride; my father raised me better than that. And if no one else is going to say it (and clearly they’re not), then I will: the UK Film Council fucked the Edinburgh Film Festival.

DC: The strangest thing about this year’s festival was the decision not to appoint a director, then to use consultants, then to have a director after all, but not an “artistic director.” By the end, I think James was being called artistic director, but he was executing bits of a programme of ideas put together by other hands, plus a few ideas of his own.

So, what does the title artistic director mean to you, and what do you see as the consequences of stepping away from that approach and putting power in the hands of a CEO? Or, to be blunt and very specific, should Gavin Miller be in the position he’s in? Should James Mullighan have been placed in the position/s he was in?

SD: Well, James was definitely placed in a position. No doubt about that.

It’s funny: I made a point of meeting him in February, when he came to Berlin for the Film Festival. It was a brief visit, a quick in-and-out; I had to work to pin him down. A more suspicious soul might have sensed a certain reluctance on his part – though he was friendly enough when we did talk. (And, for the record, I thought he acquitted himself well in your interview.)

By now the awful, faux-naif conceptualism of Mark Cousins’ plan was starting to filter out. The underpants. The anthem. The statues. A ‘pay what you think the film is worth’ day – an idea so stupendously idiotic that I found it hard to believe that it issued from someone who’d actually run the festival before, much less knew anything about how the film industry works.

DC: Why?

SD: Well, imagine emailing or telephoning a sales agent, the people who, in most cases, give you the films you show – say, Wild Bunch, the most haughty and disdainful of the European titans – and, when they ask for a screening fee, or a minimum guarantee, explaining that the actual market value of their product – which they’re licencing to you, more for your benefit than their own – will be determined by the audience. A Scottish audience.

(Of course, this is all pure conjecture, since Wild Bunch wouldn’t take a call from Edinburgh any more, such was the reputation of the festival after the protracted, bungled search for a new AD – an instance of mismanagement that had not gone unnoticed within the international industry. Nor would most of the other major sales companies. The festival was perceived to be dying, or dead. As one sales agent remarked to me, in March, ‘One less we have to worry about.’)

Mr. Cousins, I’m glad to say, was paid precisely what his ideas were worth – which is to say, nothing. Indeed, he made a point of saying so himself, in his Teflon-like slide away from actual work (beyond that airy ‘sending of a few emails’) or accountability. A slide which I’d predicted to Mr Mullighan during our conversation in the early evening of February 16, in the lobby bar of the Hyatt Hotel, Potsdamer Platz.

I suggested to Mullighan then that he’d been hired as a quisling, as a fall-guy for what promised to be a potentially reputation-tarnishing disaster, and that my only advice to him would be to get a good lawyer to go over his contract, as he would almost certainly be out of a job the minute this year’s edition was over. And so, four months later, it proved. That he now claims to have only ever been hired for one year surprises me, when I recall our discussion, but perhaps he was simply being discreet.

Tilda Swinton and Mark Cousins.

[DC: Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the actual All That Heaven Allows blueprint: Mark Cousins didn't feel able to supply a copy for publication. But the press, and PopBitch, did carry the story about the Festival Underpants, and it was apparently presented to the staff at EIFF.]

Should Gavin Miller remain in his position? No. And I don’t feel especially bad about saying so, since I said as much to his face, when I met him – again, by careful contrivance – at Cannes. (My wife was amused to note that, when I walked up and introduced myself, his proffered hand began to tremble slightly; I felt for a moment like Lord Voldemort.) We had what might be called a full and frank exchange of views, in the course of which I suggested, politely, that he resign. Not altogether surprisingly, he disagreed.

The CEO doesn’t have to be a cinephile (though the AD definitely does, and it’s to Mullighan’s discredit, I think, that he’s not). In fact, it’s better that they’re not a film nerd; they’re about realising, in a practical sense, the vision of the AD, and reining in their wilder excesses. The two jobs are very different, and require very different and even opposite skill-sets. But it should, at the very least, be someone who knows about the film industry: how it operates, where it’s at, and how Edinburgh might work within it. Same goes for the Board: to have a Board comprised of people who know next to nothing about either the festival or the industry – as was the case in 2010-11 – is a recipe for disaster. But the failure here is an institutional one, of extraordinary proportions, and it goes from the Board right down through management to the staff. Who are good, hard-working people, trying to do the best job they can despite the idiocy of those above them. (In this respect, at least, it probably hasn’t changed all too much from my time there.)

And while we’re apportioning blame, the last thing I’ll say about Cousins’ ‘Ziggy Stardust moment’ for EIFF is this: Mark always enjoys telling us how much he loves film. That his is a purer, better, nobler love than any of ours’. It’s a very canny strategy, this fey innocence, since it has the effect of making even the mildest criticism appear to be motivated by black-hearted cynicism. (Obviously you don’t love cinema enough! You’re disconnected from your sense of wonder/child within/spirit-totem!)

But for someone who’s constantly banging on about the magic of movies, he certainly doesn’t seem to care much about screening them with any integrity. He talked this year about wanting to get away from using ‘traditional venues’ (cinemas are so square, daddy-o!) – but screening a DVD on a sheet in an attic is not, I think, the most creditable way to watch a movie. It devalues the work, and it disfavours the audience. One of his mooted ideas – that a film would begin at one venue and then stop, halfway through, and you’d have to walk to another venue to see the rest of it (ah, but along the way, you’d talk about Cinema!) – says all that needs be said, I think, about his fondness for gimmicks, and his blithe disregard for the level of care a filmmaker should reasonably expect from a festival that has invited his work.

I mention this because he’s managed, with characteristic adroitness, to escape most of the blame that should, I think, be laid as much at his feet as at Gavin Miller’s. Had he not been so shifty when trying to exculpate himself from the mess he’d helped create – first spitting his dummy in the dirt when the staff rejected his plans as bullshit, then ducking out as soon as it looked like the festival would be a flop, I wouldn’t lay into him like this. But he did, and I am. I CALL SHENANIGANS!

As for the AD, I was asked recently what that job requires. This is what I wrote: ‘The obvious things required are also the obvious things that were noticeably lacking here. Someone with a broad and detailed knowledge of international cinema, both historically and in the present, and strong curatorial and presentation skills. Someone who understands the business – specifically, the complex network of inter-relationships between UK and international producers, sales agents, distributors and festivals, and where EIFF can and should exist in relation to each of these. Someone with ideas that are credible, and not bullshit. Someone who can inspire both a severely demoralised staff and a signally disinterested pool of funders, both public and corporate, to work toward the rehabilitation of what has become, in less than twelve months, a badly devalued brand.’

The CEO of the CMI: Gavin Miller.

DC: The abortive search for an artistic director last year was a strange sight, certainly as viewed from the outside, and there was widespread doubt about whether the Festival was even going to go ahead. How could it have been so hard to find someone suitable? Do you know anything about how all that went down?

SD: I had a number of people I know – and also one or two I didn’t – contact me to ask whether I thought they should apply for the job. I looked at the advertisement and told them I thought it would be a bad idea. For one thing, there was no actual mention of programming, and everyone who spoke to me was more or less the same kind of person: an enthusiast, rather than a careerist, someone in love with the idea of just selecting beautiful movies and splendid retrospectives. Which is a lot of what the AD job is, but by no means all of it, alas.

But then, what had I expected? People I know kept forwarding me newspaper stories about Gavin Miller (for most of the past twelve months, all I had to do to keep appraised of doings at Edinburgh was look at my In Box), and I noticed, in the course of this reading, that he barely used the word ‘film’, much less ‘cinema’ in his interviews. But boy oh boy, was he down with generating multiple revenue opportunities via a diverse array of digital content and cross-platform branding!

This is the new breed: the marketers have stormed the citadel. But this, too, was to be expected, since festivals are no longer allowed to be the things they once were: small, local events of curatorial integrity, put on by passionate enthusiasts. And this clash of expectations is something I’m going to return to in a moment.

Plus, there was the financial situation, with the Film Council money (and the Film Council itself) winding down, the shift to a BFI that’s long disadvantaged EIFF in favour of London, a new Tory government determined to slash and burn, and the vastly diminished sponsorship opportunities of a post-recession economy. I’m not saying for one moment that a new approach to delivering the festival wasn’t needed; without question, it was. But there were ways to do that – and just as importantly, to sell it – without having to go the Dreamy Outsiders, ‘pay with a current bun and sit on a cloud’ route. Ways that might have retained some fundamental goodwill and belief in the event from outside stakeholders, instead of disbelief and derision.

Anyway, I heard about most of who applied, and who they spoke to. So thoroughly fucked-up was the process that one candidate – the head programmer for a reasonably high-profile US festival – didn’t even score an interview. Now, I’m not much of a fan of the guy personally, nor am I terribly convinced by his sterling good taste. But you’d think he’d be someone you’d at least want to talk to. . .

DC: Obviously a lot of very vocal people in Scotland, including myself, have a kind of proprietary feeling about the EIFF which might make things hard for anybody wanting to impose changes. But nobody wants it to be a purely local event, and it’d probably die if that’s what it became, so those voices and audiences aren’t all that counts. The big question, I suppose, has to be “Who and what is the EIFF for?” or even “Who/what is any 21st century film festival for?” Who does it have to satisfy and what does it have to do to achieve that? 

SD: A friend there sent me a link, a few weeks ago, to aBBC radio report on the festival, and while I agreed with most of the complaints the (Scottish) journalist raised about this year’s event, her bleating about how ‘Edinburgh should be more like Cannes’ just betrayed, to me, a stunning, provincial ignorance about what this festival is, what Cannes is, and where each sits in the broader scheme of things.

This endless carping: Why isn’t Edinburgh more like Cannes? Well, there’s a very easy answer to this question: Cannes has an annual budget of over 20m Euros. EIFF, by comparison, runs on the spare change found at the back of the sofa. Considerably more money might mean a slightly more Cannes-like experience, provided that one’s index for this happens to be a ‘red-carpet’ (i.e., stars and premieres) style event. Slightly, but not completely. You’ll never get the same level of world premieres as Cannes. You’ll occasionally get A-list stars – but not all the time.

But Cannes is also on the Côte d’Azur– a highly desirable destination. It has, in addition to its festival, the largest film market in the world. It happens at precisely the right time of year to begin positioning films for sale and distribution and awards. So everyone wants to premiere there, and everything else is considered second- (or third-, or fourth-) best.

It’s also, for better or worse, the defining brand – the words ‘film festival’ are synonymous with Cannes; it’s the only one that everybody knows – and its prize is the only one that means a damn out in the wider world. (Who, apart from a few trainspotters, remembers what won the last two years’ Golden Bears? Or Venice Lions?) Even well-funded contenders like Venice and Berlin, can’t match the value it brings to a film . . . so to try to emulate it in a small city in Scotland, on a budget of £13.75, strikes me as kind of idiotic.

I actually had a test, whenever a journalist complained of EIFF not being enough like Cannes. I’d ask them if they’d ever been to Cannes themselves. And I wasn’t exactly surprised to find that, almost without exception, the answer was no. Supposedly informed professionals, their image of Cannes was essentially no different to any reader of Hello: a non-stop parade of red carpet events, with Angelina Jolie and George Clooney sashaying, while a million flashbulbs pop. Never mind that this spectacle occupies perhaps two or possibly three nights out of the festival’s eleven. The rest of the time, that same red carpet is occupied by precisely the kind of filmmakers in which EIFF specialises: Alexsandr Sukurov, Bela Tarr, Hou Hsiao-hsien . . .

But the press are especially guilty, in this respect, I think. You have people like Andrew Pulver, in the Guardian, complaining last year that Edinburgh had ‘sold out’, somehow, by having films like ‘Toy Story 3’ – which is apparently not what a supposed ‘festival of discovery’ is all about – and then complaining this year that ‘the big films are missing.’ Well, which is it?

You have arts journalists at the Scottish papers mostly sitting on their hands for the first six months of this year, either unable or unwilling to do the kind of basic investigative journalism that might detail what’s happening within what’s become a noticeably strife-torn organisation – a story that, it seems to me, might be of some passing interest to their readers. Other than to trot out their usual piece about how it’s ‘not the same as it was,’ and why, oh why can’t it be better? Meaning, presumably, ‘more like Cannes’.

But by parroting these two things – glassy-eyed nostalgia and a vague, itchy sense that they should say something – they never actually focus on the bigger issues (in particular, the experience the festival offers people who actually buy tickets and attend it – only Siobhan Synnot’s piece in the Scotsman did that this year), and never take a broader perspective, and site the festival in the international world of other film festivals or the international film industry, and consider what external pressures may be upon it, and how well – or not – it’s reacting to those. The level of discourse is so low, it’s staggering. One guy was happy to run something – provided I wrote it myself and basically did his job for him. (And presumably, insulate him from actual blame as well as undue exertion.) I said, er, no.

This is what I mean about the clash of expectations. Everyone has a different and competing idea of what EIFF should be, and the one thing those visions share is that none of them are congruent with social or economic reality. And the people out there now, in the wake of this year’s disaster, saying, oh, it should go back to showing art movies, and being a bastion of academic excellence, a la the 1960s . . . Well, guess what? It’s no longer the 1960s. The audience has changed (and diminished) and so has the culture. And except for a couple of hundred logorrheic nerds on the internet, blogging endlessly to each other, that kind of film culture is largely extinct. And most importantly of all, no one will fund that kind of festival any more. I’m sorry about that, but it’s true.

Steven Soderbergh took time out from OCEAN’S 13 to talk to Shane (right).

DC: When you ran the event, it was a cinephile feast that also had areas of much wider appeal. Are you saying that such a festival is no longer possible? Have we moved that far on/back, that quickly?

SD: Well, that’s nice of you to say. If that’s true – and I’m sure some would disagree – it’s only because, while I hesitate to use the word cinephile, I do love movies. And all types of movies, old and new, from the very commercial to the very, very slow, hermetic and austere. (For the record, test things I’ve seen so far this year: Ruiz’s “Mysteries of Lisbon”, Köhler’s “Sleeping Sickness”, Naranjo’s “Miss Bala”, and Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”) I think that Catholicism of taste is important for an Artistic Director, lest the festival become too much one thing.

(Actually, this does remind me of one funny story from my time there, at a dinner with an actress, who had clearly screwed her co-star during the shoot, and was flirting outrageously with him across the table – much to the irritation of his wife, who was sitting beside him. Eventually the starlet turned a bored eye in my direction, and asked what was good at the festival, anyway? What she should see? I named one or two films screening the following day, but then said, you know, it depends on what kind of movies you like. I mean, I’m sure you’ve got pretty Catholic tastes . . . ‘Oh, no,’ she replied firmly. ‘I don’t like anything about religion.’ A beat of embarrassed silence ensued, during which the actor’s wife was staring right at me, with one eyebrow raised, as if to say, ‘A slut AND an idiot. Nice.’)

The one thing it should be, though, is a reflection of the artistic director’s tastes. Because to me, that’s the job; that’s why I was paid what I used to laughingly refer to as the big bucks. And part of it is simply covering your own ass: no one, in a dismal year, would say, gee, Shane Danielsen’s programmers really let him down … Ultimately, the buck does, and should, stop with you. To be the director of something – be it a festival or a film – means putting your own stamp upon it: this is after all one of the tenets of auteurism. Unless, of course, that film or festival is part of an industrialized process, the work of many hands. Which, unfortunately, may be where Edinburgh is at right now.

This is not uncommon. You know at Toronto the programmers often don’t even write their own catalogue copy? A lot of them have interns or other staffers do it for them, and then put their by-lines to it. And they’re not alone: apparently quite a few festivals do this, now. Because they’re too large, too anonymous, and being run by bureaucrats, or by committee. And also because Film Festival Director or Film Festival Programmer was, for some years, seen as a thing to do, a way to enjoy a certain kind of lifestyle and build a career. Now, of course, the result of all this enthusiasm has become apparent: a sub-prime-mortgage-like bubble of too many festivals fighting over too little product, followed by an inevitable meltdown, timed to the 2008-9 recession. Which brings us to where we are now: a period of correction in the market, where there will undoubtedly be casualties. And EIFF may yet be among them.

Having no EIFF catalogue this year was sad, yes. Obviously that publication was something that was quite close to my heart. But better not to do something at all, I think, then to do it badly.

DC: I agree entirely that the Scottish press has two default stories, “too commercial” and “lacking glamour” and it trots them out alternately more or less at random. But isn’t there some way the Festival could GIVE them another, better story, something worth writing about? Journalists, being lazy, might welcome a story that comes pre-packaged.

SD: Oh, indeed. (Sorry, have been watching ‘The Wire’ again, and am very taken with Omar’s speech patterns.) But my question is this: why do we have to do their work for them? Why can’t they bring some kind of informed, analytical perspective to the very thing they’re supposed to cover? I mean, if your beat is the Scottish arts scene, it’s not too hard, is it, to keep abreast of developments? To know the players and follow the narrative? It’s not like you’re covering Wall Street, or trying to find out if Iran are developing a nuclear weapons programme.

Omar.

I didn’t realise, until a friend pointed it out to me about an hour ago, that the Herald subsequently ran your Mullighan piece. (Did he know that was going to happen? And did he consent to it being used, there? Because I certainly wouldn’t.) This, to me, is the Scottish press in a nutshell: aggregators of other people’s content. You did the hard work, and they scooped it up. Presumably, in the spare minutes between updating their Twitter feeds.

[DC: The journalist in question tweeted to let me know he was writing the piece and was nice enough to ask how I wanted to be described. But he didn’t actually ask permission, I guess because once something is labeled “news” it belongs to everybody. James Mullighan expressed surprise that the Herald didn’t call him directly: it’s not like he’s been in hiding.]

James Mullighan.

DC: Some might accuse you of score-settling here. Can you offer a positive suggestion for carving out a future for smaller film festivals generally?

SD: Well, that’s the unfortunate consequence of my compulsion to speak truth to power – ironically, the very quality which defines a good journalist. But Hannah, I know, is just as sad and furious as I am. She’s just a more tactful and politic person. As she said to me just this morning, she has to live in Edinburgh. I don’t.

But score-settling … I don’t know about that. I haven’t said anything here that I haven’t said already to the people themselves. I haven’t spoken to Mark in a few years, perhaps because he’s always clinging on so tightly to his Famous Friend. It’s hard to get his attention. But given the spirit of the last discussion we did have, at Edinburgh’s Closing Night Party in 2005, I don’t think he’s under any illusions as to my feelings about him. Had he been in Cannes this year, I certainly would have gone up and given him some feedback – if only in terms of how to write a press release that doesn’t make your balls ache. Though my wife said she was relieved he wasn’t, as she didn’t much fancy bailing me out of a French jail.

But I did make a point of speaking to James Mullighan, just as I made a point of meeting Gavin Miller. And I did so because I wanted to get my own sense of each of them, rather than go on gossip and hearsay. And I expressed my concerns to each of them, as an ‘interested stakeholder’, honestly and forthrightly – but above all politely; voices were never raised above a polite murmur.

I also chose to hold my tongue about Edinburgh for a number of years, as I said at the beginning of this talk, feeling it wasn’t my place to comment. But given this year’s debacle, I thought it might be time to use this project of yours for what could be most pertinent: an interrogation of where EIFF is at, and how it came to get there, rather than yet another chance to bask in the rosy glow of nostalgia, and remember when so-and-so came, and so-and-so said, and so on, and so on . . .

I’m not in Scotland; I’m out in the world. And I cannot overstate to you the degree of dismay and disappointment in the international film community right now. For agents, Edinburgh is something to be avoided, lest it tarnish their clients’ reputation (and believe me when I say that my sources, in this regard, are excellent ones). For many sales agents, as I said, it’s simply ceased to matter; they’ve struck it off their lists of significant festivals to deal with. The river flows fast, in the world of film festivals: you stop swimming for a moment, and you drown.

For distributors, it’s a non-event, without either the money, the press profile or the reputation to make the necessary difference to their films. It’s broken – and worse still, it’s broke. And what we’re seeing now is the result, not only of a catastrophic series of appointments since Hannah’s departure, but of a long-term narrative of financial mismanagement and administrative neglect. In which I am as every bit guilty as anyone else. I should have done more, or been smarter, or stronger. I definitely should have been a better manager. But I also could see the ossification of the organisation from within, and its dysfunction – and also, how the tide was turning in the broader world. I’m very glad I got out when I did, at the last possible moment that doing it could have been remotely considered fun.

Claudia Cardinale resolutely failing to look like Shane Danielsen.

DC: Whatever the cause of the Festival’s problems, the solution has to involve enlisting and empowering an Artistic Director who can improve the event’s standing by their very reputation, and then funding the thing to a reasonable level so it can do what its more informed critics demand: not compete with Cannes, but stand on its own as a worthy event presenting exciting modern cinema and retrospectives and events and stimulating thought, for the pleasure of Edinburgh residents and visitors alike. That’s the minimum. If Gavin Miller and his Centre for the Moving Image can’t do that, what are they paid so handsomely for? 
Here is the link to the CMI’s website. Does this suggest a vibrant organisation working to promote cinema?  A “powerhouse of ideas and activity”? I don’t see the evidence of it here. I think this organisation needs to change from secrecy to opennessm admit its mistakes and move on. The process of choosing the next Artistic Director is underway. I hope they make a good choice.
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57 Responses to “The Edinburgh Dialogues #5: Shane Danielsen”

  1. Matt Lloyd Says:

    Great interview David. An wonderful mixture of insight, fearless truth-telling and self-aggrandising negativity. Lots to agree and disagree with, but I’ll just make one point.

    Regarding UK Film Council culpability – some of us were publicly questioning back in 2008 the wisdom of accepting the UKFC’s dollar on such an unprecedented scale – if only in obscure journals with tiny circulation (eg The Drouth, Summer ’08). If this was something Shane felt so strongly about, why didn’t he break his silence then, as someone who would actually be listened to? I think there’s a difference between breathing down your successor’s neck and taking a continued constructive interest in the festival, just as there’s a difference between fuzzy nostalgia and gaining a full understanding of the festival’s history. As an event with extremely limited resources EIFF relies on the continued support and advocacy of former ADs – individuals with clout in the industry. I wonder therefore whether Shane would consider the possibility that cutting all public ties with the festival in September 2006 (however noble the intention) could have had a more damaging effect than lingering like ‘yet another Banquo’?

  2. The sense of continuity in Edinburgh, with previous directors staying in touch, is seen as positive by those who are part of that group, and as negative by Shane — don’t know about David Robinson as I haven’t been able to contact him. I don’t know who’s right, because they all did good festivals. The break with continuity this year didn’t seem productive.

    No idea if Shane will elaborate, but I would imagine criticizing the move to June would have struck him as unhelpful to Hannah’s cause. And I suspect he was sufficiently fed up with the board that he needed to disengage entirely. Maybe that wasn’t helpful for the Festival, but he’s entitled to think of himself.

  3. Matt Lloyd Says:

    Of course. I just think hindsight’s a wonderful thing, and it’s a bit late to bash the UKFC now, as opposed to engaging with the process of changing the festival’s identity (not just in terms of dates) back in 2008.

  4. The fact is that the 2008 UKFC money was just barely enough to run the scale of Festival expected – and not enough to ‘build’ it to the extent that the UKFC were demanding. We needed a lot of it just to make elements of the business functional. The concept was that the money would make us so fabulous that we would attract enough corporate support to stand unaided; but not only was it not enough investment to truly transform the offering, there was also a financial crisis that drained away potential sources of big private money. And then the UKFC itself of course became obsolete. (Now EIFF has to apply for funding to the BFI… which runs the LFF, and thus MIGHT have an interest in its pre-eminence. Hmm…) As for Edinburgh funding EIFF, well – Edinburgh is pretty broke. What we always heard was that it was hard for the council to justify investing massively in culture when savings into the high millions had to made, and the Children and Families department (etc, etc) was being cut.

    June, as I constantly say, was not the problem. Things would have been tougher still in August, I am quite sure. But I do wish – in wondrous hindsight! – that I had taken more issue at the time with the specifics of the UKFC’s plans, because I don’t think what they asked of us was ever realistic. They wanted an overnight transformation into Sundance (which, you know, happens in a country that makes quite a lot of movies, quite near the town where it makes most of them – and which has individual private donors who give it more than $1m a year!).

    Certainly the EIFF Board and management were not wrong to petition for and take the UKFC’s cash – it was needed for survival, never mind growth – but the Festival was living hand-to-mouth. It needed – and now needs – a five or even ten-year plan.
    (I also feel that the establishment of the CMI has been a distraction and a drain that has thus far failed to prove itself as much other than a new name. Business thinking is all well and good and necessary; but people fixated on profit running a not-for-profit is likely to create issues…)

    I often hear that people bang on too much about money in relation to EIFF – that it should be all about passion, and that if the Festival is lovely enough then the films and stars will JUST SHOW UP. Sadly not. Passion should be a given; but as unromantic as it is, platforming the kind of films people complained of missing this year does require money. Distributors don’t care if you love the film, or if the Festival is a delight to be at: they want talent costs split, parties provided, high-end press in town, their own staff paid for.

    That was a very long comment.

  5. Just bought your book!

    Of course it’s too late to bash the UKFC, but if Shane’s points are valid (and I don’t know what went down, I wasn’t in on it) I’d love to hear what Pete Buckingham has to say. I’d heard that it was Edinburgh Council who wanted to move the EIFF, so either I was misinformed or it’s complicated. Or both.

  6. (I wish you could buy my book. But that would involve me getting off the bleeding interwebs and finishing writing it.)
    Re June, it is complicated, but basically all the stakeholders agreed after long consultation that moving dates presented the Festival’s best chance for growth. It wasn’t demanded by the UKFC but they did favour it. EIFF Board had pretty much decided on the move before the UKFC funding strategy came into being – it was talked about at my interview, which was prior to the 2006 festival.
    Pete B was a great supporter in many ways, but as I said, I think his expectations failed to take into account certain realities of the UK film industry. Too much was attempted too fast.

  7. Matt Lloyd Says:

    Like Hannah, I don’t want to dwell on the date change (I was for it at the time, I’ve said this before). And I accept, suitably chastened, that it was and is easy for the likes of snot-nosed interlopers like me to say then and now ‘oooh should you really be taking all that money?’ Financial stability is of course vital.

    But it seemed to me that the UKFC’s proposals were based on a total lack of understanding of what EIFF had been and could be, and I’m curious as to who was responsible for accepting them.

    Thanks for buying my book! (I don’t see a dime)

  8. Yes, it was Matt’s book I bought. Talking to Lynda has gotten me all psyched to read it.

    According to Shane, the UKFC proposals had to be accepted otherwise the money would have been withheld. So whoever accepted them kept the Festival afloat. Of course, they have a say in how their money gets spent.

    Edinburgh Council may be skint, but aren’t they still supporting the other Festivals? As they should be, of course — but I don’t see why the EIFF shouldn’t get the same level of support as the Book Festival, say, and I suspect it doesn’t.

  9. Well, I was, partly, and I cop to that. My priority was an investment in programming, to support the paying of programmers, a wider search for films, and the bringing of (particularly) new and unknown filmmakers. Which I got. It’s not that I think we misspent the money. But from the UKFC then expected an automatic massive shift in status and perception, which was where I think there was an unreasonable expectation. I remember arguing a great deal about the fact that the ‘festival of discovery’ they wanted was a tough commercial sell, and would need serious ongoing support to flourish.

  10. Audiences traditionally prefer something they’ve heard of, and they seem to have heard of so little these days. So you need big films to lure them in, and offers to make them buy more than one ticket, and films they’ll enjoy if they take a risk. Abolishing the offers this year broke a major link in that chain.

    But the point is, as you say, sudden violent changes to the Festival’s nature risk being destructive, and are anyway likely to take more than just a few years to start performing as desired.

    One would HOPE that the BFI realize they don’t exist solely for the benefit of Londoners… but I get the feeling they’ve always been London-centric in everything, from production funding to exhibition.

  11. I couldn’t say for sure what the Council’s current levels of investment in the various festivals are. They were always, always supportive, but just very strapped. One massive problem is a general shift in funding policy – public and private – away from core funding and on to project funding. So you get your money from, say, the Scottish government EXPO fund, but it’s earmarked for a highly specific project, and doesn’t help you with core costs. You end up with rich projects but a poor organisation. We would talk to potential title sponsors, and the bells and whistles they wanted as part of the deal would more than eat up the money they were offering – leaving us back at square one, if not square minus one. It’s like, ‘I will give you £7, and with it you will buy me a present worth £7.50. Aren’t I generous?’

  12. Matt Lloyd Says:

    (I don’t think you misspent the money Hannah.)

  13. (you haven’t seen my yacht.)

  14. Matt Lloyd Says:

    I have, it’s gorgeous. Money well spent.

  15. My internet and TV broke down at home so I’m typing on my lapdog in the Filmhouse using their wifi. I feel like a spy.

    A policy is no good if it doesn’t reflect reality, and the reality is that without core funding some arts projects can’t be sustained. So that seems a potentially disastrous sea-change.

    Confession: I have been on a yacht, at a Scottish Screen party in Cannes. The bar was credit card only so we ended up charging everything to John Archer. Sorry, John! He was very nice about it.

  16. Incidentally, I’m very sad that Shane didn’t look at my first programme. This means he never knew about the 24-Hour Richard Jobson Marathon strand that we introduced.

  17. …featuring The Purifiers: Version Longue.

    I’ve met Richard Jobson and he was perfectly charming. And I’m actually IN his first film, as an extra at the Art College. I suspect Tartan Pictures going bust means it’ll be a while before he makes another one.

  18. Matt Lloyd Says:

    I’m surprised Shane didn’t mention that he actually DID screen The Purifiers (which I thought was shot in Glasgow, not Milton Keynes). I would have thought that act of charity absolved him from any further obligation to Mr Jobson…

  19. I think it’s Glasgow and Milton Keynes. Milton Keynes just sounds funnier.

    I’ve heard, and can believe, that A Woman in Winter is better, so on grounds of consistency maybe he should have shown it. But then, all you need is a wider range of good films available that year to nullify that argument.

    I’m all for supporting Scottish movies, but they need to be good. I was disappointed that my own film Cry for Bobo was screened because Scottish Screen backed it, not because of its own merits. There was a deal in place to always screen certain short film schemes. Happy to benefit from whatever’s going, but winning a place would be more rewarding.

  20. As for Valerio Zurlini</A., several of his films were quite highly-regarded back in the day, particularly Family Diary with Mastroianni and Jacques Perrin.

    His entire career is well deserving of serious study.

  21. I only managed to see Girl with a Suitcase and Desert of the Tartars that year, to my regret, but have since gathered a nice pile of Zurlinis to watch. A grand filmmaker in a variety of modes — hope to feature him in The Forgotten soon.

  22. Laurence Boyce Says:

    Some of what has been said was one of the troubles of the UKFC in general: they had a fundamental lack of understanding in just how Film Festival fit into the model of exhibition and just could not comprehend how they worked.

    They also tried to do exactly what you SHOULDN’T do with another film festival: make it compete against another. A film festival should be the best it can be without being ‘compared’ (I know it probably sounds slightly utopian and naive, but I really think that is how a festival should be run).

    Will the new BFI funding change things? Perhaps but, as mentioned, I am slightly concerned that – given they run the LFF – they have a slight conflict of interest…

  23. I think it would be scandalous if the BFI withheld funding, but whether anybody would be able to do anything about it is another matter.

    I agree that competition isn’t helpful in the case of Film Festivals, and Edinburgh in the past has suffered from London’s desire to show only UK premieres, which means they’ll forbid movies from coming to Edinburgh. I think it’s very largely a different audience, so it shouldn’t matter.

    Sheffield’s move now makes Edinburgh’s June slot problematic for documentaries, though it was encouraging to see Project Nim go down so well. Nobody minded that it had already played Sheffield.

  24. Laurence Boyce Says:

    I very much doubt the BFI will withhold funding and I am sure everything is above board. But there is still a slight niggle that they are responsible for organising the EIFF’s biggest rival. And anyone who thinks that they hasn’t been tensions between the two festivals over the past few years (especially thanks to the accursed, outmoded and ridiculous premiere policy of the LFF) is sorely deluded.

  25. I the UKFC could dictate policy to Edinburgh, surely the BFI could tell London to abandon the premieres policy, to avoid having two festivals it supports sabotaging each other’s chances? I’m not averse to funding bodies dictating terms if they do so productively.

  26. Matt Lloyd Says:

    Ha. Good luck persuading LFF to drop that.

    I loved the Zurlini retro. Shane’s retros were flawless.

  27. Sloan1874 Says:

    There seems a great reluctance to comment on the role of Mark Cousins in this year’s festival, even though Shane is very clear in his views that he had a pivotal role in its problems. By all accounts, it would appear he walked away from it once his ‘famous friend’ got cold feet and decided she didn’t want any more to do with the festival.

  28. Matt, I have a slight quibble about the Leisen retrospective, although I loved it and it was amazing to see it happen: by excluding the musicals and period films on the grounds of excess camp, Shane kind of neutralized an important strain in Leisen’s work because it didn’t suit his tastes. That’s not quite in line with how I see a curator’s role. But it was absolutely amazing to see Leisen given the respect he deserves for Remember the Night, Hold Back the Dawn, No Man of Her Own etc.

    Sloan1874, Mark is quite happy for people to say they don’t like his ideas, but he’d be very unhappy at any inference that his ideas were actually executed this year. Those that were attempted, misfired, and he’s not wholly responsible for that because he wasn’t in charge of making them happen. The majority didn’t happen.

    Shane holds Mark to account because he believes that the impracticality of the ideas meant that they didn’t offer a realistic solution to the Fest’s problems, if I read him correctly. So he thinks Mark bears responsibility for that. Mark was never going to be running the show, and he disclaimed further involvement when the event started to move in a different direction.

    Who’s right here would be easier to judge if the All That Heaven Allows blueprint were freely available.

  29. Matt Lloyd Says:

    ‘by all accounts’ – really, Sloan1874, whoever you are?

    I have no idea what are the ins and outs of who did or didn’t deliver what and when. But I have seen Mark and Lynda’s blueprint. It seems to me to be a laudable and sincere (if in part under-developed and occasionally ill-conceived) attempt to tackle the very real issues of massively reduced funding and no Artistic Director in a genuinely interesting way, though one which is clearly not to everyone’s tastes. Seems to me that even if Mark did walk away from an unpaid consultant’s role, he can hardly be held responsible for the general mismanagement of the last 12 months. But maybe you know better, Sloan1874.

  30. Matt Lloyd Says:

    Fair play David, I missed the Leisen retro.

  31. It’s clear, and I think Shane says so himself, that the failure to appoint a director in a timely fashion was the single most damaging decision.

    After I get through talking to Lynda Myles, it now looks as if I may be interviewing Gavin Miller…

  32. Matt Lloyd Says:

    Wow. Do you speak corporate?

  33. Sloan1874, reading between the lines, I’d say Danielsen’s comments regarding Cousins obviously run much deeper than his performance as festival adviser, or whatever his role was, at the start of the year. And many of his gibes are pretty weak – is the idea of splitting a film in two really that disrespectful? It used to be the norm to have an intermission and some films, for example the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Stanley Kubrick, practically invite one.

    It sounds to me as if Cousins, Swinton and Myles have been slightly used by the CMI. It is pretty obvious that next to nothing on this much talked about blueprint (be great if you could convince Cousins or Mullighan to let you publish it, David) was used at this year’s festival. Miller obviously liked the idea of Cousins et al’s names and reputations being attached, but was less keen on realising their ideas as it might require some imagination, hard work, and a basic knowledge of cinema. And it sounds to me like Mullighan wanted to be his own man and have the traditional artistic director role – understandable, but probably rather foolhardy if he has little knowledge of cinema himself. If I were in Cousins position I’d have washed my hands of the whole affair also.

    Danielson certainly gives good copy, though. He’d be a journalists’ dream if it wasn’t for the fact that his juiciest quotes are at their expense. Miller/CMI and the press have come off pretty badly over this series of interviews. As Shane’s a fan of quoting Shakespeare, a plague on both your houses.

  34. Shane Danielsen Says:

    Two things:

    Firstly, we can argue endlessly about which Leisens should have been included, and which omitted, from a retrospective that was, owing to space and time constraints, obliged to be a partial one: just 11 features from filmography of 39 or 40 credits. But agree or not, the kind of bias I showed, away from the musicals and costume flicks (which I’d argue already constitute most of what little reputation Leisen enjoys today) and in favour of slightly lesser-known films, was absolutely an act of curation – that is, the selection (and omission) of work according to the personal taste and agenda of the curator. Which is quite different from programming, an altogether more inclusive, and less subjective, activity.

    Secondly, David is right when he says ‘the impracticality of the ideas meant that they didn’t offer a realistic solution to the Fest’s problems’ … but only partially. The bigger problem is that, whether you happened to believe in the so-called ‘amuse-bouche’ or not, there wasn’t the necessary follow-through, the sustained commitment from Markandtilda that might have given it a chance. (Excuse the nomenclature: I think of them, these days, as a kind of gestalt organism, a little like The Human Centipede.)

    It’s what annoyed me about Mark’s interview here. ‘The worst bit was the routine, how locked my diary was – I had to be somewhere specific or do something specific each month.’ Golly, yes, it’s awful, isn’t it – having to actually do a job, like normal people, to a set schedule? When presumably one would rather be able to pause, perhaps for weeks on end, to admire the dew glistening on a cobweb, or show an Apichatpong Weerasethakul film to an Afghan child whose mother just stepped on a landmine. All the while, collecting your pay cheque – which, we might note, is delivered monthly.

    Unfortunately, like it or not, the film festival is an annual event, held at a particular time of the year, with the attendant deadlines and commitments. So to complain about the ‘routine’ of it, is like moaning about the tide. (‘All this coming in and going out – why must it be so PREDICTABLE?’) But it’s symptomatic of something … an attitude, I suppose. That the creative spirit shouldn’t be held to the same level of accountability as the rest of us.

    The fact is, after the hopelessly mishandled selection process for a new AD, and in light of its dire financial situation, it was clear that EIFF was in serious trouble. It needed a bit more care and attention, not to mention respect, than a troika of dilettantes coming in and airily making a few ‘whimsical’ suggestions – which not only didn’t respond either sensibly or well to the urgency of the situation, but which served to make the festival look like what, in the eyes of the film industry, at that moment, it absolutely shouldn’t have: amateurish, ‘local’ (in the League of Gentlemen sense of the word), and above all, unprofessional, of no value either to the industry or the filmmakers upon whose good graces it depends. And then walking off, leaving the little people to turn these dreams into reality. Either you do the job, or you don’t.

  35. Do I speak corporate? I’m a little out of date, fluency-wise.

    It seems like Mark and Shane have always had some deep antipathy, and I’d even trace it back to Shane’s hosting of the Ophuls retrospective, before he became director, but I’m not 100% sure of that or what lies behind it.

    I think splitting a film in two presents definite problems, such as selling the idea to a sales agent or distributor or even the filmmaker. Films with intermissions were made with that fact in mind, so I don’t think it necessarily enhances the experience. There could be ways to make it work, and I could see a double-bill with a short walk in between and the Artistic Director leading a discussion along the way…

    There is a suspicion that the CMI has placed all these people, including Mullighan, in the firing line, or at any rate that’s been the effect. All to make up for the failure to appoint an Artistic Director. That has to be the question to put to Miller — we have an umbrella organisation whose job is to make the EIFF run effectively, but it failed in its first duty. Why?

    Now, do I have the nerve to ask him, and can I translate it into corporate?

  36. Shane, regardless of quibbles, I loved the Leisens. When else am I going to see No Time for Love projected in 35mm? And it was my first exposure to Swing High Swing Low, now an absolute favourite.

    I feel that Mark & Tilda & Lynda were sincerely trying to help, in a situation where it looked like the Festival might not happen at all, so I’m disinclined to wag the finger at them. Their ideas definitely didn’t win support from the staff or respect in the wilder world. I think some of that is down to problems with the people who embraced the ideas but couldn’t deliver them, and I’m afraid some is the ideas themselves.

  37. Shane Danielsen Says:

    We’re clearly talking to quite different staff, then, And very different people in the wider world.

  38. Leisen without camp is Hamlet without the Prince! How can anyone who claims to love cinema possibly exclude THIS?

  39. Stuart Condy Says:

    I have very fond memories of No Man Of Her Own being followed by the Twilight Zone episode, Sixteen Millimeter Shrine starring Ida Lupino. It’s an enduring EIFF highlight for me. I pray the festival can bounce back under the stewardship of someone who knows and loves the cinema. The Danielsen / McGill years led me to some incredible films, old and new and that’s the primary purpose of the festival, right?

  40. Shane, sorry, that was a typo, now corrected — whatever the merits of the ideas may have been, they clearly DIDN’T inspire confidence in staff or in the film business or the festival circuit, at least as they were presented.

    I can see the reasons for presenting a different slant on Leisen, since Wilder had repeatedly traduced him as a mere set decorator, and the other aspects of his work needed celebrating. And you certainly don’t lose the camp flavour altogether, not when you have The Lady is Willing.

  41. As someone who was working for another film organisation that got landed with one of Pete Buckingham’s “too good to be true” deals, I entirely sympathise with the difficult choices.

    Great interview and wonderful to hear the commentary from both Shane and yourself David. I think there are still a lot of people who would live and die for the festival but the faith is being chipped away by cuts, confusion and circumstance.

  42. The focus does seem to have shifted, thank God, to finding a strong Artistic Director with cinephile knowledge, a strong vision, and a track record. If they pull that off, I do think there’s grounds for hope.

  43. Charles Gant Says:

    I engaged in a Twitter debate with Time Out’s Dave Calhoun yesterday – not the ideal platform given the character count. I agree with him that EIFF will benefit from, as you say, a strong Artistic Director with cinephile knowledge, a strong vision, and a track record. However, I think the finances really need sorting. EIFF is in a Darwinian struggle with other, better resourced festivals, and something dramatic needs to happen to re-engage distribs and sales agents. Scotland has its own political institutions. Is a high-profile international film festival something it desires and cares about? It’s hard enough just to maintain your status. If ground is going to be recovered, it’s going to need an intervention that better management and curation alone can’t solve.

  44. A good budget would obviously help. Not so much for films, although it’s a factor, but for guests and publicity and all the other stuff. But even if the Fest ends up smaller, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be brilliant. Part of the trouble this year was having an OK five day fest stretched over twelve days, which made it depressing. I took two days off from it and it still felt like too much of too little.

  45. Sloan1874 Says:

    I think Glasgow’s is proof that you can produce something extremely good on a small budget. I was told by one member of its staff that to have Catherine Deneuve appear for Potiche would have cost half of the festival’s budget, which puts what they achieved – a varied and interesting selection of films that were, from what I could tell, well-attended – in perspective.

  46. Astonishingly entertaining, impassioned and insightful stuff from Shane here. And a timely reminder that the personality and certainty that are key to the Artistic Director role often don’t come with a free side order of diplomacy. It’s a real joy to read somebody just saying what the fuck they think without filtering it.

    You have to suspect that the failure to appoint a “proper” AD last year had to do with Miller, and perhaps members of the board, wanting to keep an unhealthy level of control over things. The “new breed” of business-head, corporate arts professionals that I’ve met are generally individuals with the fateful combination of an extreme hunger for power, a massive ego and a level of intelligence which is actually much lower than their own perception of it.

    What’s immediately noticeable about Shane and Hannah, when you meet them and in their writing, is that they are people of exceptional intelligence. While James Mulligan seems like a reasonably OK guy, he just doesn’t possess anywhere the same level of mental brilliance. We’ re talking about top level brainpower and clarity of thought with Shane and Hannah, to a degree that can be intimidating. Which is to say that this isn’t really a criticism of James Mulligan…

    …But it is a criticism of Miller and the Board.

    The challenge for the Board to hire a new AD who intimidates them personally, intellectually, socially. Who not only knows more than them in terms of film/cultural taste, but also in terms of film markets, festival business strategy and pretty much every aspect involved in the running of a film festival. As Shane mentions, the AD role is a gargantuan one and is far more than just the, already demanding, task of picking a great selection of movies.

    It’s desperately important that this point is grasped in order to ensure that the appointment of the new AD isn’t the last one that the EIFF ever makes.

    I struggle to see how Gavin Miller fits into this picture at all. And unless he wants his personal legacy to be the destruction of a long running and important cultural event he needs to do the decent thing and, as Shane correctly told him to do a while back, resign as quickly as possible. The shame of sitting about as an old man and contemplating how you pretty much single-handedly brought the Edinburgh International Film Festival down would surely be worse than the personal fall-out that a resignation might cause in the short term.

  47. Sloan, it may be that Catherine Denueve’s appearance fee is amazingly high, rather than the Glasgow Fest’s budget being low… I’ve heard a story to that effect…

    Glasgow has the advantage of being a Festival that started small and has gone from strength to strength, whereas Edinburgh’s shrinking creates rather a different impression.

    Seamus, if you or anyone else have any questions you’d like me to put to Gavin Miller when I interview him in a week, please suggest them here!

  48. Could you ask him what he perceives his role to be in Film Festival’s overall structure. And how he is qualified for this role in terms of a proven track record, not just within a general business context, but specifically for a role residing within the Arts sector and, more specifically, the world of International Film Festival organisation.

  49. Sounds good! I’m curious about his job description too. I thought he was effectively replacing Ginnie Atkinson as producer, but then he hired a producer. So it’d be good to clear up what his duties are and how he’s qualified.

  50. There seems to be a couple of stated reasons for the problems of EIFF this year: money and timing ie good things for Gavin Miller to blame on the previous incumbents. Many of us know senior staff at EIFF and this blame culture is one that seems to overhang everybody, and that’s because everybody is scared of speaking up for themselves. In the past, expressed concerns have been followed by undermining and arguments. This Stalinist approach is hardly appropriate for a creative team in any situation, never mind a pressurised Festival.

    Let’s look at the suggested reasons for this year’s failure:

    Money. It is well recognised that the UK Film Council money stopped but funding comes from a number of sources – grants, sponsorship and ticket sales. We have heard endlessly about the grants being squeezed. Unless I have missed it, I have heard nothing about the ‘success’ of the new marketing gurus at CMI in generating sponsorship and ticket sales. I guess the silence speaks for itself.

    Timing. There must be plenty of pros and cons of June vs August and I can think of a few. I suspect that the reasons for the change to June were well researched by Ginnie, Hannah and their team at the time. Does anybody at the CMI really believe that had the same Festival been on in August it would have been any less of a fiasco than June? Come on – it wasn’t just the films, it was the whole amateurish approach to it, including Mr Miller’s speech at the opening film.

    And what of the CMI? I have yet to find anybody, including senior staff, to give a clear and consistent objective. So one question I would like to have Mr Miller asked is for a clear summary of his vision for CMI and EIFF both next year and over the next five years.

  51. One other potential source of revenue, a souvenir programme, which can carry advertising and be sold to the public, was scrapped this year…

    I’ll certainly ask about the CMI’s ongoing plans and purpose.

    There MAY actually be some good news about sponsorship and ticket sales, I’ll see what I can learn.

  52. David these interviews are golden, really enjoying them. But – and I know they are about the role of artistic director in defining the future of the fest – should we talk about the management of the festival?

    Everyone has noted that without a proper budget the dreams and ideals of the AD can’t be realised – but there are questions about that budget – Why did the fest lose it’s finance? Why has the budget it does have not been used appropriately? Why does a small fest like Edinburgh have a managing director AND and artistic director? Where does the buck stop for non-creative decisions?

    My own opinion? Edinburgh suffers throughout most of its festivals and arts organisations from a hideously alienating culture where people who are inept, and frankly often insane, stay in their jobs or circulate around the main festivals because things are as they ever were

    Seems the CMI isn’t doing much better with this side of things – esp with their spectacular higher ticket prices/ no package deals own-goal, but surely the management side is something that needs to be looked at closely for future success?

  53. This is something we can get into when I talk to CMI CEO Gavin Miller, although I probably won’t say all those things to him… that might seem rude. But since apparently any Artistic Director appointed will be answerable to him, it’s crucial to know what his plans are and see if the thinking has changed since this year’s problems.

  54. It’s important not to be rude. However I am sure that many people would be interested to know whether HE thought the Festival was a success or not. There is no public communication from the CEO or Board (both ultimately accountable for the success of the Festival). Also what about the decision not even to look for an AD last year (the advertised post was for a director). I have heard that there have been significant tensions over the months between the CEO Board and Creative Scotland which can hardly help.

  55. Patrick Ronsome Says:

    Sloan raises an interesting thread: why is the GFF going great guns on a budget that is indeed low – 100K – while the EIFF falters despite a higher profile and more funds?
    Even though the GFF couldn’t afford Deneuve, yet Alison and Allan still had a wildly successful opening and have been rewarded accordingly.
    It can’t be just the film fan enthusiasm of locals Glaswegians, and may confirm the theme of this series; appointing an AD needs to be a thoughtful choice. Is the CMI capable of that?
    And whither the EIFF board – where are the film folk since Smith left? And does it/we need the guru behind Borders Biscuits?

  56. Great points. I’ll be sure to raise them (this is one interview where I’ll really need to bring notes to keep me on track, as the business side is outwith my comfort zone).

    In some ways, Glasgow’s success is relative to its relative newness and smallness — if the last GFF had been staged in Edinburgh under the EIFF banner, it might not have been so well received — but it would still have been better than what we got, so that argument only gets you so far.

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