The Edinburgh Dialogues #6: Lynda Myles

Jason Isaacs, Lynda Myles, Ben Miller, at Edinburgh in 2010, under Lynda’s plaque.

Lynda Myles ran Edinburgh International Film Festival in what some have called “the golden age of film programming,” (1973-1980). As Susan Sontag said, “For fifteen years there were new masterpieces every month.”

Lynda inherited a thriving Festival from Murray Grigor, who had turned it around from a moribund spell in the late sixties, with the help of Lynda and her then partner David Will. Grigor, a filmmaker himself, embraced the pair’s cinephile vision and encouraged the Festival to celebrate mavericks like Sam Fuller and Douglas Sirk, who had been largely overlooked by mainstream criticism. Lynda continued this wholeheartedly when she took over as Director, augmenting it with a new focus on theory and ideology.

During this cinematic revolution, Lynda’s critical acumen put Edinburgh at the forefront of the field, with retrospectives on Raoul Walsh, Max Ophuls and Jacques Tourneur, and helping discover both the New German cinema and the New Hollywood cinema. And Lynda co-authored with Michael Pye the first study of the post-Corman generation, film school generation, The Movie Brats, How the Film Generation took over Hollywood.

Since Edinburgh, Lynda has enjoyed a distinguished career as film producer, with DEFENCE OF THE REALM, THE COMMITMENTS and THE SNAPPER among her credits. Now she combines teaching at the National Film School with filmmaking: several new features are in development. No wonder a plaque in her honour is mounted outside Edinburgh’s Filmhouse.

I spoke to Lynda via futuristic Skype machinery and managed to get most of the conversation recorded… then we met up and discussed the interview, enabling me to add more information in parenthesis –

DC: What I’ve been starting with, uncontroversially, is asking all the directors to choose their favourite memories of doing the job…

LM: If it’s not going to complicate things too much, I think one thing to remember is I was actually there over thirteen years. Kind of missed the ’71 Festival, but there was a kind of continuum: Dave Will and I were asked to go and work with Murray [Grigor, previous director], so I was at the Festival for about four or five festivals as programme editor and then deputy editor [before becoming director].

DC: So, during Murray’s time as director, what was most memorable?

The first major, major moment for us was, it had been Dave’s idea to do the Sam Fuller retrospective. It’s very difficult to talk about such ancient history… I know when I talk to students, and I try to talk to them about a time when Sam Fuller, Douglas Sirk etc were not household names, it’s hard. Post-Tarantino, everyone embraces Sam, but when Dave came up with the idea it was a very radical notion and it flew in the face of what the traditional British critical view of the cinema was, which was very much European art cinema. So the moment that Sam Fuller touched down at what we used to call Turnhouse [now Edinburgh Airport], and we met Sam – in a very kitsch way with a bagpiper – we got special permission to meet him with a piper on the tarmac – that was a major thing… we saw it as our intervention with Edinburgh.

http://vimeo.com/27511160
Sam Fuller on a return visit to Edinburgh in 1992.

We were attacked by all sorts of people. I remember a BBC producer meeting Sam and saying, sniffily, “He’s not an intellectual.” But it was our first gesture of oppositional film culture to which Dave and I were committed. We were about twenty at this point, Sam was the first Hollywood director we’d ever met, and you couldn’t have got someone more extraordinary, who threw himself into the Festival, checked out of his hotel, went to stay with Murray at Inverkeithing. So Sam was a major thing.

Probably the most important single person for me was Douglas Sirk. I was sort of in charge of setting up the Sirk event with Jon Halliday, and Jon Halliday and Laura Mulvey co-edited the book of essays on Douglas. And Douglas was one of the most phenomenal people I’ve ever met. He’s remained an enormous influence in all sorts of ways. Roger Corman coming the first time, in 1970: again, when we also published a book.

[This was the period when Edinburgh really got into publishing a book with every retrospective and conference. The Sirk book is now extremely rare, as it was cheaply bound in a manner that caused it to self-destruct upon opening: if you have a copy (as Todd Haynes does), treasure it!]

These were all things that we loved, the directors, we loved their work, but also it had an agenda, which was our whole oppositional culture position.

DC: And it SUCCEEDED!

LM: I could go on and on…

DC: Do! And from your own years as director?

LM: John Huston attending with FAT CITY. And when Scorsese came. I had the privilege of having Robbie Coltraine as my driver that year, before Robbie really started acting, and Robbie had a habit of partying, and not turning up to get me out to the airport, including the morning Scorsese arrived, but moments like that, having Brian DePalma… There were all sorts of directors we loved… before talking to you today, I did look at most of the programmes  except my last year which was a bit of a haze because it was mostly about parties… But it’s interesting the recurring things: we showed David Cronenberg’s early avant-garde features, David came almost every year, we got involved with Jonathan Demme when he was still a writer with THE HOT BOX, and then we showed his first film as a director. I think we had a Jonathan Demme film almost every year. And there was a whole New York underground, Amos Poe, Yvonne Rainer, Warhol, lots of that, lots of avant-garde… George Romero… I mean, one of my favourite nights was when we used to view at Filmhouse, we used to view all summer, films that had been sent to the Festival, and I’ll always remember the night we started watching this film which turned out to be ERASERHEAD… which was an extraordinary moment.

[Many people have claimed they founded the Edinburgh Television Festival, but Lynda wants to stake her claim here: Gus MacDonald and Lynda Myles started the TV Festival, along with a committee including Clive Goodwin, Barrie Hanson and Brian Gibson. The Film Festival begat the Television Festival, partly because much of the best filmmaking in the seventies seemed to be happening on TV (Stephen Frears, John MacKenzie) but the work couldn't be screened at the Film Festival for legal copyright/licensing reasons. The TV Festival found a way round that, and John McGrath delivered the first MacTaggart lecture, trashing the TV industry for the "endemic naturalism" that still plagues it today.]

So there’s endless stuff. But one of the things I wanted to say about my time there was, I think I was very lucky because I think the ‘70s is recognized as the Golden Age of Programming, so I was incredibly lucky because I hit New German Cinema. We’d actually shown some of Wim’s [Wenders] shorts, we’d shown some Fassbinder from about 1970, but I was very lucky because the time I took over as director coincided with New German Cinema kind of exploding and I think one year we showed about 24 German movies. And they all came, and we all stayed very involved with them.

[There was also greater co-operation amongst festivals, with Edinburgh active in helping set up a support network of independent Film Festivals, so they could help each other instead of fighting over films -- a great idea which, sadly, didn't last, but is perhaps due for revival in the modern age of thousands of competing festivals...]

So there were very clear loyalties at Edinburgh to a lot of these people. Very much the School of Corman, everyone to whom in a way Roger gave birth, Monte Hellman, Joe Viola, Jonathan, Peter Bogdanovich, Curtis Harrington. We liked the mavericks, what we didn’t like was the sort of films the liberal establishment liked at that point. So we were the first film festival to show a lot of horror, B-movies, a lot of rock and roll – we got involved with Don [D.A.] Pennebaker very early on, and obviously things like THE LAST WALTZ, etc. And Bill Forsyth, Bill Douglas…

One of my favourite memories is, I think the best Festival party we gave was the legendary party at the Commonwealth Pool, when it had just opened. Where we rashly put on the invitation, “DO NOT bring swimming costumes as you will not be allowed to enter the pool.” We had an explicit ban. And of course, at midnight, Chris Auty stripped off and jumped in, followed by about sixty people… I just remember it was a great party, I remember Nick Nolte was there, and his girlfriend of the time and his producer… we had good times.

And that’s why, in a way, I was especially happy when Mark [Cousins] was there, and Lizzie {Francke], because Mark had that sense of the playfulness and the transgressiveness, and that was kind of what we were doing, I mean most of the time it was fantastic, so most of it’s very happy memories.

Festival directors on parade: Mark Cousins, Lizzie Francke, Murray Grigor, Hannah McGill, Lynda Myles, Jim Hickey, and producer Ginnie Atkinson.

DC: So, balancing that, what were the frustrations of the job? I guess everyone has things that they wanted to do and couldn’t.

LM: Actually, very little. I got away with murder, basically [laughter]. I had a couple of things going for me – the ace up my sleeve was Colin Young. Colin, as you know, was Scots, who came back from being Dean at the film faculty at UCLA to start the National Film School. And Colin was my chair [chairman of the EIFF board] and he protected me. I find it quite upsetting, reading Matt Lloyd’s book [How the Movie Brats took over Edinburgh], which I think is terrific, to remember all those ghastly board meetings when Forsyth Hardy was trying to get me fired, because the old guard, the Griersonian documentary lot, absolutely hated what we were doing.  And there were endless battles, and Matt manfully ploughed through all the minutes of these meetings. They really tried to get me out after THE PARASITE MURDERS [AKA SHIVERS], which was Cronenberg, 1974. That was very frustrating. But Colin’s background was in ethnographic filmmaking, and I don’t think Colin was all that keen, certainly wasn’t in tune with my taste, or lack of it as many people thought, but he saw it as his role as chairman to protect me, which he did, to an extraordinary degree.

Forsyth Hardy (right) with John Grierson at the first ever Edinburgh Film Festival.

[DC: I recall reading a '50s film book by Forsyth Hardy in which he negatively reviewed REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, saying that Natalie Wood's distress over her father's withholding of physical affection was impossible to sympathize with or even believe in. A very Scottish view.]

LM: And the other thing, which I think I’ve never had the chance to stress anywhere is, I had the most unbelievable diaspora of support. I was incredibly lucky. Obviously with Murray, Dave and I working together, and then Jim joining in ’69, I think, and Jim is theoretically my deputy, but obviously we worked very closely together. But apart from that, I had Peter Wollen, and Laura Mulvey, and I think more and more in retrospect that Peter was probably the most brilliant mind of that generation. I mean, he was just phenomenal. And then people like Paul Willemen, Phil Hardy, the late Claire Johnston, Joe Medjuck in LA, Kay Armatage in Toronto, and in London, people like Simon Field, Dave Curtis… David Meeker at the BFI, without whom the retrospectives would have been impossible. Tony Rayns…

There was a phenomenal group of people, completely engaged with what we were doing, sharing the same agenda, so obviously although I was director for the last eight years, there was endless, endless, endless discussion about what we were showing, what we were doing. Maybe that was a phenomenon of the time, because in a way the political-aesthetic agenda was much clearer at that time.

One of the areas where I was blessed was I had an incredibly brilliant, committed staff, who were Ellen Galford and Isabel Hilton, Rebecca O’Brien, now Ken Loach’s producer, Simon Perry for two years, Penny Thomson, Jane Balfour, Ginnie Atkinson and Archie Tait… I had an amazing group of people. We ran the Festival with a staff of about twelve, nobody was permanent apart from me and an assistant.

And actually, when I looked at the programmes I could see… my programmes really tail off. I mean, talking about ’77, between Murray’s period and mine, when we were very clear what we were doing, but by ’78 it had got sort of hazier. Not that the festivals weren’t fun, but they didn’t have the clarity.

[After the interview, Lynda looked again at her collection of souvenir programmes, and asked to revise what she said above. Here's why --filmmakers whose work screened in '76: Hollis Frampton, Straub/Huillet, Yvonne Rainer. In '78: Bill Douglas (MY WAY HOME), Monte Hellman, Gabor Body, Ulrike Ottinger, Jonathan Demme and a Max Ophuls retrospective. In '79: King Hu, Chantal Akerman, Demme, Straub/Huillet, Les Blank, a Nick Ray tribute, plus ALIEN, SCUM, MANHATTAN,WISE BLOOD, THE TEMPEST (Jarman), MAD MAX, THAT SINKING FEELING (Forsyth), the new Philippines cinema, a celebration of the origins of the UK documentary movement, and a second conference on feminism in cinema. If that's tailing off, we need more of it.]

DC: I guess as well the maverick stance had almost become mainstream by the late ‘70s.

LM: Yeah. What happened, partly, was that the NFT in London started taking our retrospectives, so they’d move onto London. There’s a tribute going on to the programming at the Scala. It’s fascinating, looking at all their posters. [Scala programmer and later film producer]  Stephen Woolley came to Edinburgh when he was very young, very bright, has very much the same taste… And by the late ‘70s, we’d kind of done what we wanted to do.

The other thing that’s quite weird, looking back over the ‘70s, is that there’s hardly any British cinema at all. Because that was when the pound had suddenly got very high against the dollar, and that was when the Americans pulled out. And I remember doing a programme for BBC2, on the Festival in 1979, because I had six British films: this was seen as amazing! We’d always shown some BFI Production Fund films, but ’79 we had an incredible midnight screening of ALIEN, and RADIO ON, which was very important…

The other thing I should mention as a highlight: we did the first major women’s film event in Europe, in ’72, which was a lot of fun, and BBC2 wanted to make a film about it, and very much in the spirit of the times, we said “No, give us the means, give us the cameras and the stock etc,” and we made a film, during the Festival. Which exists, somewhere.

DC: We should talk about how you became involved in it this year.

LM: I got involved because the Festival had interviewed people for the job of Artistic Director, and had failed to appoint anyone. So, in the vacuum, when it looked like nothing might happen, Mark came up with this ingenious plan of a festival which he described as being a cross between the Venice Biennale and Meltdown. And he got Tilda [Swinton] involved and they asked me to join them. And the final document, had it been possible to realise it, would have ended up in an absolutely extraordinary event.

We felt the Festival needed to be rethought, that it had got kind of a bit weary. Unfortunately, for reasons that are complex and difficult to describe, the blueprint wasn’t followed up. The blueprint would have needed certain people on the ground to deliver it. It was always clear that Tilda was going to be doing the Jarmusch film, Mark finishing his epic [The Story of Film TV series] and June is one of my busiest times in my life at the National Film School, so we were never going to be there. But for some reason, it wasn’t brought to life. So it remains this blissful, platonic ideal of an event which didn’t happen. Except tiny bits of it: I mean, it was lovely having Bela Tarr there.

DC: Matt Lloyd talked in the comments section about how, really, when you’re dealing with Mark Cousins ideas, maybe you need Mark Cousins to execute them. Was that an overall flaw in the plan? If you three couldn’t be on hand to make it happen, who on earth could be trusted to see this through?

LM: I think there might have been people who could, but it wasn’t the right combination.

DC: I think they’ve got a very good staff, but I think they were demoralized after having to reapply for their own jobs. And then I think James, coming in, didn’t really speak the same language, because his staff are cinephiles and he speaks the language of brands, and low-hanging fruit… the language is different. I don’t know if they saw him as a festival director. It wasn’t clear when I spoke to him: something I’d heard is that he was hired as producer and then became the director…

LM: My understanding was that he was hired to be the producer.

DC: And a good choice in many ways. But maybe not the right man as director for this particular event. So, is there anything you can say, or would like to say, about this year, or shall we move on?

LM: One thing that slightly cheers me up is that [laughs] history has shown that Edinburgh can rise from the ashes. When we got involved in ’68, the Festival had been absolutely appalling. One of the things we had to stop was, the films were selected by committee.

DC: Oh…

LM: When Murray had come in around ’67, he inherited this, there was a committee which watched the films every night. The Festival was attacked in the Scotsman… The thing about what happened, in a way, from ’69, was that it showed Edinburgh’s reinvented itself before. So I’m optimistic. I think in some ways, having a year that goes… awry, like this, in a way maybe it’s good.

I don’t know if I’ve even got the energy to talk about the dates. I think it’s an absolute no-brainer that the Festival should be back in August. I think the move to June was insane. Edinburgh, when it started, as you know, was the third film festival in the world. When you have 2,000 festivals out there, everything’s looking for specificity. The fact that Edinburgh is potentially part of the world’s largest arts festival seems to me a useful addition to making Edinburgh specific. Apart from the fact that no film students can go because everyone’s shooting in June. When we had the 60th anniversary and Brian DePalma came back, for the first time since I’d invited him in ’76 or whatever, Brian stayed quite a long time, going to three or four movies a day, and then going to stuff at night. I just think it’s crazy when you’ve got the fantastic Book Festival, you’ve got all the shows… it seems to me it’s a time when cinema’s more engaged, when you’ve got people like Steve McQueen [HUNGER] coming from visual arts, lots of dramatists going into cinema, I just do not understand.

And the argument about space, well my God, if Teviot [University building and 2011 delegate centre], that ghastly – and I know that place because I was an undergraduate – it felt like a student event. It just felt amateur. If that’s one of the glories of June, well, let me out.

DC: There must be other choices in June, you should theoretically have your pick…

LM: You might think so. The sad thing at the moment is, I dealt with about four directors of the Edinburgh Festival [the arts festival, as opposed to the Film Festival], and they weren’t all terribly user-friendly towards film, but the irony is that with Jonathan Mills there, you’ve probably got someone who would be very open to collaboration.

Oh what a gorgeous cat!

DC: Yes, this is Tasha.

LM: Oh WOW. Anyway, I’m sorry, I can get very boring, don’t get me started on August. I do think that there would be lots of possibilities for crossover.

The other thing is, the last time I went up in August, last year, I got a taxi at Waverley, and in two minutes in a taxi you get that unbelievable excitement. That Festival, I walked home on my own, at two in the morning, and it was fantastic. And I’m afraid you don’t get that in June. I love that sense of excitement.

DC: This is great because you’re the first Festival director I’ve spoken to who’s come out strongly for August.

LM: Here endeth the first lesson. Hardwired. I went to the Festival when I was about 17, not the Film Festival, it was the theatre, music. I absolutely love it, I think it’s unbeatable, it’s crazy not to be part of it.

DC: What else would you say for the Festival’s future?

LM: [small voice] I would move back to August – which also gives them more time. Which they’re going to need. I would make it shorter, I think two weeks is too long. I would make it ten days.

DC: I think it is ten days.

LM: Is it ten days? It feels very long.

[It’s twelve days. I think Shane Danielsen cut it to ten in the early 2000s, but it’s spread again]

LM: Ten days would be fine. I think they’ve got to get someone who really has a grasp of international cinema, someone who can talk to directors, someone who can talk to distributors, and sales agents. Again, I was very lucky, when I was there I basically dealt with directors, to some extent with distributors in London, but it was basically pre- sales agent days, and I mostly just asked directors for their movies after I’d seen them.

I think whoever’s coming in should be someone that the distributors trust, that they feel knows the business. It’s quite a hard brief because the Edinburgh Festival I love was about ideas, it’s more about ideas than anything else. But to keep the ship going, it’s got to engage with the public. What I’d hate is for it to become a local event. Local festivals are fine but there are lots of them in Britain, and Edinburgh for many years was the festival that set the agenda for everyone else. If it shrinks into being just a local event, maybe that’s OK at one level, but I think it’s a terrible waste. Because the other thing that’s very clear over what’s happened this year is, I must have had hundreds of conversations since November, and what is interesting is how people care about it. Contrary to what certain people around the Festival think, there’s a huge amount of concern about the Festival and what’s going to happen with it from people who worked there, people who have movies there, people who’ve been there.

I could conjure up a brilliant advisory committee with ten people I’ve spoken to here who would immediately become part of that to help get it back on its feet. But I think you’ve got to get someone who can talk both to directors and to the industry. It’s got to be someone with some sort of vision because it also ought to be different from London. I think Sandra [Hebron] did a brilliant job with London, but it’s a different kind of Festival. And I think Edinburgh has to be about ideas, about innovation. But it has to be the leader of the pack in terms of what’s happening in cinema.

Read more about Lynda’s revolutionary role in film critical history: How the Movie Brats Took Over Edinburgh: The Impact of Cinephilia on the Edinburgh International Film Festival, 1968-1980

Read Lynda and Michael Pye’s book: The Movie Brats: How the Film Generation Took over Hollywood

See a Lynda film: The Commitments [1991] [DVD]

From the 1978 programme:

“The following publications will be available at The Filmhouse:

Douglas Sirk                                                     £0.90p

Frank Tashlin                                                   £1.10

Jacques Tourneur                                          £1.00

Perspectives on British Avant-Garde    £1.50

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61 Responses to “The Edinburgh Dialogues #6: Lynda Myles”

  1. Matt Lloyd Says:

    The Sirk book may have self-destructed, but Barry Norman tore up the Raoul Walsh book live on Film ’74…

  2. Literally? What a Nazi!

    My guess is, from what I’ve heard of it, that I probably wouldn’t care for that book, but I respect the authors’ right to take a theoretical view if they want to…

  3. Danny Carr Says:

    Her enthusiasm is infectious.

    I wish I’d been there. Is it possible to be nostalgic about something you were too young to attend? Is it wise to be nostalgic about something if Shane Danielsen is in earshot?

    I just hope that similarly brave and enthusiastic potential new artistic directors aren’t put off by the festival’s currently toxic “branding”.

  4. I have all those books. They’re teriffic.

  5. Even the Walsh? That’s good to hear.

    Lynda hinted that there may be some very good applicants for the job this year. Hmm, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that. But I don’t know who they are, so it’s all just as secret as it was. It’s just a more upbeat secret, isn’t it?

  6. Sad news just in that Ruiz died…

  7. This is a great piece. Thanks DC.

  8. I’ve read that Douglas Sirk book too. It has the famous Fassbinder essay on his films. Terrific series by the way, David C.

  9. Raoul Ruiz and… Jimmy Sangster.

    I’d still love to get Lizzie Francke, David Robinson and Murray grigor interviews, but it looks like for now this series will end with my Gavin Miller talk — still to be confirmed.

  10. Matt Lloyd Says:

    How about David Bruce? Would be good to get his perspective on the pre-68 years.

  11. Ruiz : a great filmmaker and a teriffic guy. We shall not see his like again.

  12. The EDINBURGH filmfestival was one of SAMUEL FULLER’s
    very favorite festivals. They even made him an honorary
    Scotsman,,,,,,,hello Lynda Miles and Murray and Barbara
    Grigor that started it all. Remember that Sam had left for a week
    in 1968 and stayed a whole month!!!
    We then both returned towards the end of his life —-we
    even saw a play THE LAST NIGHT OF OTTO WEINIGER in
    hebrew with English subtitles. Barbara by that time had left us much
    too young to die.
    It’s a very important festival for international filmmakers……

  13. Thanks! It was also a thrill to see the restored Big Red One at Edinburgh a few years later.

    I was in the audience during Sam’s presentation of his pitch for The Lusty Days, his rollicking Civil War epic. What a great dream of a film that was!

  14. david wingrove Says:

    Very sad to hear about Ruiz. At least he managed to go out on a high with the wondrous MYSTERIES OF LISBON – rather than some fascinating low-budget production that only three people ever get to see.

  15. According to the IMDb, he had another film in post-production. So I’m holding out for another low-budget movie for me and two other people!

  16. I only started seeing his films seriously over the last year. I saw GENEALOGIES OF A CRIME a few years back and I liked it. Then I saw HYPOTHESIS OF A STOLEN PAINTING, DOG’S COLLOQUY, THREE CROWNS FOR A SAILOR. I am hoping to see MYSTERIES OF LISBON soon.

    He had a terrific way with images and a burst of ideas. The great thing is that he left behind this dazzling body of work.

  17. It’s to be hoped that his name will be more celebrated now — he should have been routinely mentioned whenever critics moaned about how few of the great arthouse directors were left.

  18. Agreed 100%, David!

  19. Maybe my memory is defective, but I don’t recall any British PM commenting on the death of any major British artist, ever. I don’t say this to give any credit to Sarkozy, I think it’s just a demonstration of an area of cultural superiority of France over Britain.

  20. I’m picturing his House of Stories with its door ajar and its windows unlit.

  21. That seems only appropriate. I’m ashamed to say he’s just about the only Chilean I ever heard of, so I think he deserves suitable honours. (OK, there’s Isabel and Salvador Allende too.)

  22. There’s Jodorowsky, Neruda and Pinochet too.

  23. Matt Lloyd Says:

    On another tagent, here’s an interesting resignation letter from the programmer of Sarajevo FF, a festival founded during the seige with the hands-on support of Mark Cousins:

    http://www.indiewire.com/article/1st_person_howard_feinstein_why_i_left_my_heart_in_sarajevo_the_schizophren/#.TkqZcZRFAAU.facebook

  24. Jodorowsky, of course! And the other guys.

    Feinstein’s woes seem to typify a lot of the problems in film culture…

  25. david wingrove Says:

    Another semi-illustrious Chilean was Tito Davison, who emigrated to Mexico and directed a number of classic melodramas for the likes of Maria Felix (QUE DIOS ME PERDONE) and Libertad Lamarque (AMOR EN LA SOMBRA).

    Perhaps his chief claim to fame for non-Spanish speakers is Lana Turner’s late-career campfest THE BIG CUBE. Artistically, he had nothing in common with Ruiz at all – but both men had formidable survival skills.

  26. I hope we’ll be hearing from Tito later on in your Cine Dorada alphabet! The Big Cube is ridiculous but enjoyable, and I’d love to see what he could do with slightly more dignified material. Not TOO dignified, just a bit.

  27. In documentary, there’s Patricio Guzman. Best-known recent films by younger directors are MACHUCA and TONY MANERO. Actresses include Valentina Vargas (her off THE NAME OF THE ROSE) and Leonor Varela (BLADE II). And if you fancy it, you could try Claudio Miranda (BENJAMIN BUTTON and TRON: LEGACY cinematographer) and Alexander Witt (RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE director).

  28. I’m wondering about the place of documentary here: Was part of Forsyth Hardy’s antagonism perhaps a perception of a shift from a documentary festival to a fiction festival? If the EIFF were to be re-invented as a documentary festival today could this be commercially viable?

  29. very interesting stuff from Sarajevo…

  30. Thanks, Experimento!

    I get a lot of hits due to Valentina Vargas, all because of an image I posted from Sam Fuller’s Street of No Return. Which seems to tie together various strands of this thread.

    I think Hardy accepted that the Fest had moved on from being purely documentary, but he expected it to continue to favour very traditional, narrative work, a sort of “tradition of quality” view. And he objected to anything esoteric, even when it proved sensationally popular (as happened frequently in the 70s).

    As for the Fest specializing in docs, Sheffield does that so well, and is so close in dates, that seems impossible now. Some kind of specialisation might be useful to clarify the Festival’s identity and USP though, but it shouldn’t be too restrictive, for the simple reason that we don’t have our pick of world cinema — often we have to choose from other festivals’ leavings…

  31. This year of course the EIFF did collaborate with Sheffield on the documentaries, for better or worse.

    Reference to “narrative work” perhaps raises another possibility, of doing more avant-garde films, which I tend to feel has been ghettoised in recent EIFF’s through Black Box etc. (If Eraserhead was released now, would it play as part of the main programme or as an experimental film?)

    I can’t see an experimental film festival going down well with most funders or commentators, however.

  32. Matt Lloyd Says:

    Keith, Edinburgh’s identity as a documentary festival had dwindled by the early 50s. I don’t think David’s quite right to say Hardy favoured very traditional narrative work – in his time, Hardy’s concept of cinema was as progressive as that of Lynda. But he favoured a deeply serious strain of realism, predominantly European and anti-Hollywood, at odds with the popular forms celebrated in the 70s.

    As for the ‘collaboration’ with Sheffield, that felt more like resignation to reality. Over the last decade, I’d say Edinburgh’s documentary programming has been very strong indeed. As recently as three years ago it would have been unthinkable for Sheffield to move to early June. All power to them for doing so now, but it is symptomatic of Edinburgh’s decline in this area, and makes it all the harder for the festival to regain that ground.

    Placing the avant-garde is tricky, not least because it’s a bit of a nebulous category. Ghettoisation is of course to be avoided where possible, and I’ve argued elsewhere that every film in the festival should be both a Gala and Under the Radar. But some work needs greater contextualisation, and can’t just be sprung on an audience. Which is where I would argue the catalogue comes in. Just remembering James Mullighan’s comments about how sad it was he couldn’t produce a catalogue, I’m of the view that Edinburgh without a catalogue is not a festival at all, it’s just a random collection of screenings and events. The catalogue is where the festival presents its argument. If they couldn’t afford to print it, they should have produced an online version.

  33. I’ll have to put to Mr Miller my suspicion that they COULD afford a catalogue, but didn’t understand the importance of doing so – since they did produce a chunky and expensive-looking industry guide. Combining the functions of both in one volume, but giving the bulk of it to the catalogue features, would have virtually eliminated the cost.

    You’re absolutely right to say the catalogue is essential, it elucidates the structure and justifies the selections.

    When Jim Hickey talks of screening a Lennon/Ono short with the opening gala, he’s describing an approach to experimental film which is the opposite of ghettoization and still perfectly valid in the modern age. I think Eraserhead would still do fine because it’s a feature, but short films have been undervalued at Edinburgh for decades. Every feature should have a short in front, it makes for a special atmosphere to distinguish a Fest showing from a regular one.

  34. Matt, thanks for clarifying things with regard to Hardy’s position – it seemed a bit like he was being cast as the villain of the piece, while you make it clear that the issue was more one of different generations and understandings of which cinemas were felt to be relevant. Which then maybe leads onto another question: Were the late works of the neo-realists represented in the EIFF in the early 1970s?

    With regard to short films, perhaps they shouldn’t just be part of a festival programme but also of regular programming. I’m old enough to remember going to see mainstream films (Disney, James Bond, Spielberg/Lucas etc.) in the late 1970s and early 1980s and seeing things besides the main feature. The whole ideas of the double feature and of the evening’s entertainment have died. There have been a few notable exceptions, shorts wise, like J’taime John Wayne or Phil Mulloy’s Western animations, but they seem few and far between.

  35. I remember the image, David!

    Raul was one of Valentina’s heroes. She stalked him in Paris about 8 years ago begging to act for him and then suddenly this year he offered her a role in LA NOCHE DE ENFRENTE – the one with Chistian Vadim which was filmed in March-April and Raul was still editing when he passed away.

  36. Matt Lloyd Says:

    Thanks Keith. Yes, you’re quite right, to paint Hardy as the villain is a tad reductive. However there’s no doubt that at several points during the 70s he was extremely obstructive towards Lynda and her team. No doubt he believed he was acting in the festival’s long term interests, and one can argue that this kind of generational conflict is what makes an organisation sharp, but his actions betrayed a loosening grasp on both film culture and the nature of film festivals.

    I’m not sure about the late neo-realist works, I don’t have catalogues to hand. Certainly there was a reaction against any filmmaker or movement felt to be represented or recognised by established British film culture. Again, a reductive view, but Myles et al were seeking to redress the balance, and to provoke.

    As a short film programmer I’d love to see more shorts in regular cinema programmes, but as a former usher, I know audiences these days hate them (‘Can you fast-forward the short film please?’). The natural home of the short these days is the web, and of course festivals. There’s no financial incentive for exhibitors to programme them, and that’s what it all comes down to, depressingly enough…

  37. I have to say having seen the Philip Glass trilogy at the Edinburgh International Festival that it seems a crying shame that it wasn’t a collaboration between EIF and EIFF. I would think that EIF would be open to some very avantgarde stuff and they have pots of money or at least good access to it.

    I think you are right a really good programme is essential. Re Hardy in the early 90s I was still be cornered in EIFF parties by Grierson acolythes and told about the good old days and how everything had gone to pot… what a bastard he was.

  38. being cornered … one does need an edit function.. at this time of night

  39. Fortunately I have one… it’s getting late…

    My experience is that a good short can really make a screening special, and audiences only hate bad ones. Of course, they have to be properly short shorts, if you’re going to be subjected to something you didn’t ask to see, it needs to be a very brief imposition in order to win you over.

    Positioning a Fest in opposition to whatever’s going on elsewhere is a perfectly sound tactic and can help create an identity. I’m not sure what IS going on elsewhere in Brit cinema at present… I can easily imagine a Festival structured around what’s NOT being addressed by contemporary British film though…

  40. M, without Grierson would there be any EIFF or awareness of British cinema? Certainly he had his faults, was a product of his time etc., but no more than Hitchcock, Powell, Balcon or whoever else. (On Powell, did anyone else feel the Danielsen retrospective was weak, with no Quota Quickies, Luna di miel, Queens Guards, Bluebeard’s Castle or other stuff we couldn’t otherwise see?)

  41. It did concentrate on the best stuff, which doesn’t make it weak, far from it, but does mean it didn’t offer rarities to the cognoscenti. It’s possible The Queens Guards is being actively suppressed — I believe Scorsese has a print though. From the pan and scan copy I saw, it’s pretty bad, but I wouldn’t say no to a widescreen viewing. Luna di Miel has bad stuff but also brilliant stuff, I’ve yet to see a really rewarding Powell quote quickie, but Bluebeard’s Castle and Sorcerer’s Apprentice would have made great additions.

  42. Compare the Powell retrospective to the Ulmer one in the late 1990s. The Ulmer retrospective was pretty broad, showing as much of his work as they could get, both the good and the bad. For that matter, I’d like to see someone do a Pressburger retrospective.

  43. Matt Lloyd Says:

    I think Shane made the reasonable point in his comments that his curation is selective rather than exhaustive. My own impression at the time was that the Powell retrospective was intended as a popular choice to raise funds in preparation for the following year’s 60th anniversary, but that may be unfair.

  44. Keith very good point but the problem with people who start things or even do radical important things at one point at their lives is that they don’t have any idea when they should just bugger off. I can think of a couple of cultral orgs in Scotland saddled with the founder who started to flourish when their founders eventually left. The skill set to start something and to keep something going and fresh are quite different. ALSO gettting onto my high donkey as former doc maker I have a lot of ‘issues’ about Grierson’s concept of the documentary.What he invisiged was far more like we would call a ‘corporate’ nowadays. It was an appauling tragedy that Ruby Grierson his much more talented sister filmmaker was killed during the war.

  45. It would take a very big Powell retrospective to feature both the crowd-pleasers you couldn’t leave out, and the more obscure little numbers.

    I’d love to see a Pressburger retro, but not as much as I’d like to see Billy Wilder’s screenwriting work collected together.

  46. M, there are then perhaps two questions. First, should Ginnie Atkinson have been around so long? Is there a division between artistic and business people? That the former become burnt out whereas the latter become better over time? Second, was Mullighan ever given a fair chance, or was he basically a fall guy? Previous EIFF directors seem to have been on three or four year contracts, after all.

  47. I never saw any sign that Ginnie was getting less effective. My impression is she was elbowed out for political reasons, by the board.

    James wasn’t given a fair chance, but arguably shouldn’t have been given any chance, since he was appointed to a job he never applied for: He should certainly have been given a fair chance as producer, if he’d stayed in that role. Instead, he seems destined to be the Festival’s George Lazenby: the Australian who only did it once.

  48. When I made that remark I wasn’t thinking of Ginnie when I don’t know what to do I often think WWGD? (i’d buy a badge with that on it if there are any entrepreneurial peeps reading this ) I’m thinking of a film access org in Edinburgh which was slowly squeezed to death by the founder and a literary org which now flourishing its managed to get its founder to retire…

    Yes agree with David the strange departure of Ginnie AND Iain Smith off the Board almost concurrenlty must be added to the mix of What the F*** Is Going On Here.

    Mulligan is a fall guy which is why even when he’s been roasted by everyone else I’ve been more sympathetic. Thanks for posting that pic of Gavin Millar though David .

    I don’t think there is necessarily a division between business and creative people. HOWEVER the actual reality of conditions on the ground have to be taken into account. I think the concept of a film festival has to be radically rethought in current conditions. Other festivals are ‘buying’ in guests to the tune of thousands of and thousands of euros. Distributors can’t be arsed opening films at film festvals. The entire way films are being distributed is in convulsion. Bleating about returning to the old days is being as bad as those blokes cornering me in parties and banging on about Grierson.

  49. And… the BFI just denied Edinburgh any further funding. They’ll have to change their name to the LFI now.

    Still, if Edinburgh Council and Creative Scotland can’t support the world’s oldest continuous film festival, they should be ashamed of themselves. So hopefully we’ll struggle on.

    Interviews with potential artistic directors have been going on this week.

    I’m excited if anybody comes up with a genuine brilliant plan to reinvent what film festivals are (and would still love to read the original ATHA blueprint to judge for myself) but the fact that there are three thousand going on around the world suggests that the old model still, to some degree, can function, doesn’t it?

  50. yes but remember places like Dubai are throwing bucket loads of money at their festivals. We are not and are unlikely to get any buckets of cash. As far as the industry goes only 4 count the others are sops to civic pride… even london – I do have some ideas – perhaps you and I and F and N the cat can meet in a disused underground car park and discuss

  51. Sounds good! I don’t believe huge amounts of cash, or stars, are absolutely essential. FILMS are essential. Defining a film festival as a celebration of cinema does give you some leeway, which the ATHA plan attempted to exploit.

  52. Deep Miaow

  53. When will the awaited interview with Gavin Miller be available?

  54. He’s gone very quiet, and I can only prompt him so much. Maybe when the new artistic director is named…

  55. Yes I suppose you are right. Its difficult to care now when the CEO cant be bothered.

  56. Oh I don’t think it’s that. I think he’s trying to manage his reputation and the Festival’s reputation very carefully after all the damage. Which is perfectly sensible.

    I’ve heard that a new director has been chosen (don’t know who, and don’t know who was on the list), so contract negotiations are presumably underway. It might just not be the time to talk. A couple of other potential interviewees are biding their time also.

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