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).
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.]
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.