Archive for Bela Tarr

The Edinburgh Dialogues #6: Lynda Myles

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2011 by dcairns

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

The Edinburgh Dialogues #4: James Mullighan

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2011 by dcairns

James Mullighan, fresh from bruising treatment in the British press for the perceived failings of the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival, was good enough to speak to me, to set the record straight, express his side of things, and put forward a bold vision of the Festival’s potential future.

James has worked for Sony Classical and Columbia records in Australia and as a journalist. When recruited for the Festival he was creative director of Shooting People, the online network of independent film-makers.

James is a nice man and no idiot: you may not agree with what he has to say, but let’s be polite.

The day of our interview, the Festival board had just issued a press release confirming that some of the changes to the 65th Festival would be reversed next year, and that the new director would be a cinephile — this had to seem like a shot at James, who, by his own admission, is not a man with an all-consuming passion for, and encyclopedic knowledge of movies. He did, however, bring the Festival in on budget and in an impossibly short time frame.

I find James commendably frank in the following interview, conducted a Filmhouse a couple of weeks ago. In a few instances there might be more to things than he can reveal, and also other people may have very different takes on what went on. I’d be very interested in getting everyone’s views.

DC: There are lost of positives – all the industry events, from everyone I spoke to in the industry, were well received. I wasn’t aware of a lot of talk about films that were on that shouldn’t have been. A lot of people were happy with the films they did see.

So I guess some of the negativity was inevitably down to it being a smaller festival. And some of it was specific choices they didn’t like.

You came into the job under circumstances that people on the outside didn’t necessarily understand. I wondered if you could talk about how it all began for you.

JM: As you know, well before I came into the picture, there was wholesale change at the top. Iain Smith resigned, Leslie Hills was appointed, the Centre for the Moving Image was created, Gavin [Miller] was appointed, Hannah McGill resigned, Ginnie [Atkinson, Festival Producer] had resigned six months earlier […] and budgets were set. And the budgets were, necessarily, with the end of that three-year funding that the Film Council gave us, considerably smaller. For the Festival especially, but also for the CMI as a whole. So Gavin had to merge jobs, and that was all very unpleasant and uncomfortable, the last few months of last year.

Then Mark [Cousins} and Tilda [Swinton] were appointed as artistic advisors [also Linda Myles] at the CMI. And one of the first things they did, because they [the CMI] had failed to find a director, was, they started work on a consultancy process – this is back in October/November. And they said “Here’s our vision for the Festival: No Michael Powell Awards, no red carpets, and and and… playful… naked events on Salisbury Crags, all sorts of things. A very Mark, playful, philosophical, intellectual, risky, bold proposition which he put to the Board. The Board signed up for it.

And so then, a slightly different recruitment process started, which was someone to produce and direct that event. Then I got into conversations with Gavin, somebody I know recommended he speak to me, this is in early December, we had a couple of chats on the phone, he came down to London, we had a long afternoon together, and I came back up and met Leslie and Mark, and Mark spent more time talking about what he had in mind. And I agreed that sounded exciting and bold and would give it a shot, and my appointment was announced January.

I started working part-time on both Shooting People and the Festival, and I started full-time on the Festival on the 6th of February. Soon after, Mark, Tilda and Lynda delivered their blueprint that they called All That Heaven Allows… have you seen it?

DC: No…

JM: You probably know quite a bit about what was in it…

DC: Yes, but I’ve not seen a full document. Mark sent me the initial proposal.

JM: So, I had face-to-face or email conversations with them about how each of their aspects of how All That Heaven Allows was progressing, so a whole afternoon in Mark’s flat, guest curator by guest curator, a series of meetings – Lynda lives near where I live in London, so we meet up quite often, still do. Tilda was instrumental in me being introduced to, for instance, Jefferson Hack and Rankin of Dazed & Confused, as guest curators as well […] and then we announced on the 14h of February: Creative Scotland Expo Fund does a bash at the Berlinale and so I stood up, thanked everyone and (and Lynda was next to me, actually) “Here are eight guest curators,” and we announced that morning via a press release. The blogs lit up. A misapprehension was immediately created that those eight names, Isabella Rossellini, Alan Warner, Gus Van Sant, Mike Skinner… were all coming to the Festival. Actually, if I look back at the language I used, I could maybe have put in “This Does Not Mean They Are Coming,” but I didn’t mean to imply that they were, but that implication was taken.

Meantime, I’m developing, as much as I could, the other ideas, both for films and strands that were in the All That Heaven Allows document. At the same time, making a bit of a commercial assessment of “What must we put on to hit X target?” And so Mark had said, “Why don’t you play ten films, or so?” and then I said to Diane [Henderson] and the programming team, “We need a lot more than that. As you are going round festivals, think of it as more like fifty or sixty.” Which is half what we played the year before. And so the shape then was, a bit less than half the Festival as 2010, 9 and 8, and then as much of All That Heaven Allows as I could get done at that late point. And there was a whole bunch of stuff that I wanted to do anyway, like develop the industry side, but also throw those shows open to the public, and bring in a couple of guest curators of my own, like Vimeo, and Streetwise Opera and Open Cinema and Vice.

DC: So you had, essentially, half the time that someone would normally have in the job, to put together a radically different kind of Film Festival…

JM: Less than half. Work had begun in that Hannah [McGill, outgoing director] went toToronto anyway, so she kept her eye open for some films, not on the payroll or anything. And Rod [White] who programmes Filmhouse went to Sundance, and we all went to Berlin, and Diane went to Gothenberg, and I think Rotterdam. So, a handful of Usual Suspect feeding-grounds for films. But yes, if we’d had that blueprint six months earlier, and me six months earlier, I suspect a lot more of it would have ended up in the show.

Some of it got really quite well developed and then dropped out at the last minute. Greil Marcus was going to do a mini-retrospective, and then he just couldn’t come, which is a shame. I’d like to think that if I get another crack at it, then the initiated All That Heaven Allows project will continue, with some of the content that Mark suggested this year that I couldn’t get done, but also, just that approach.

So then, Mike Skinner worked up a show, but at the last minute he just couldn’t come so we had to pull it. But they’re really super-keen to come back.

DC: So, of the things you were able to put on, there were some definite hits. What was your happiest moment, or the thing you’re proudest of?

JM: I was very proud of Project New Cinephilia. And that brought some new people to the Festival who hadn’t given it so much attention before, it also gave an opportunity for people to come to the Festival wearing a different hat. So Jason Wood from Artificial Eye came, and normally he’d come up just to look for films or to see how his film’s going, but then he came and contributed to that. I thought that kicked the Festival off well. There’s an absolute opportunity for that to become a permanent fixture. I think it needs a tweak, but not too much. They worked on it very thoroughly, Kate [Taylor] and Damon [Smith] and got it right. There’s a digital publication that exists now, and I think we could, for not very much money, do a physical publication […]

Some of the events that were going to be perfectly reasonable events, premieres in the Festival like PERFECT SENSE, became monster events. We lucked in, and Ewan MacGregor was free for a weekend and could attend, so what would have been two packed shows at the Cameo became a packed show at the Festival Theatre.

I was very pleased that practically all of the Reel Science programming filled up the halls. In fact, if we did that again I’d be putting it on at more favourable times of the day and bigger halls. Some of the films that ordinarily wouldn’t have had a scientist onstage, that were just in the programme anyway, like PROJECT NIM and TO HELL AND BACK AGAIN we added a scientist to the mix so it felt more integrated, rather than being a side-bar.

At pace, we put together the cluster of shorts events. With more time, I’m sure we could have sold twice as many tickets, which would have been purely through marketing. And thank God we didn’t put the show on sale any later than we did do, because marketing had a month to market what they were accustomed to market.  But I was really pleased with the shorts weekender. We had a supportive brand which kept out of it as well as paying for it. They were super-pleased. The people who had programmed some shorts at the Festival before, I gave them a lot of rope, and Kim [Knowles] did her experimental stuff anyway, which was very popular, best sales she’s ever had. And Iain [Gardner]’s animation and Lydia [Beilby]’s narratives: beautiful programmes, they really were, and they’ve been very well received. We’d do that again.

DC: For years there’s been a problem with the short films, and putting them all together like that seemed to help, it concentrated the attention and created a buzz around them. I should confess to some bias because I was a guest at the New Cinephilia event and I had a short in the shorts event.

JM: That was a really nice idea of Diane’s. To put on a programme of Scottish stuff could be perceived as a bit parochial, and at the same time it really cried out for it this year. A lot of submissions of Scottish shorts didn’t quite fit with what Ian and Lydia had in mind, so we were scratching our heads and thinking “How can we do that?” and the answer was “Let’s do one which is the opposite of what people expect.” Which was, rather than a bunch of dour, social realism, let’s have fun. So well done Diane for bringing those in.

Bela Tarr’s presence lit up the Festival for three days, his film was rapturously received, he brought three pieces of pretty-much unknown Hungarian cinema. He spoke after each screening. Those audiences were just blown away.

DC: And he’s quite a presence.

One of the people I’ve spoken to is Hannah McGill who says the worst aspect of the job is the relentless negativity of the Scottish press, which does seem to be year after year. That’s more or less a constant: you may have had it worse, but everyone’s had bruising experiences. So what would you like to say to defend your record?

JM: I’ve got a few things to say, one of which relates to Hannah. When a comment that I’d said was written up in a newspaper, they twisted it: they made it sound like a criticism of Hannah. I immediately went out of my way to let her know my words had been twisted. She wrote me a very sympathetic email and ended up giving me a great piece of advice which was “Stop reading the press.” And on that day, I turned my Google Alerts off. So people would say “Oh, see The Herald?” “Nope!”

So that’s a comment. The other comment is, “There’s press and there’s press.” Disappointingly, Richard Brooks in The Sunday Times, a chap in The Telegraph [David Gritten], both wrote pieces about the death of the Edinburgh Film Festival without bothering to do any research, get a comment, they’d obviously just listened to some tattle and wrote it up as if it was news. And then, because it’s been printed, it exists and it gets carried. And before you know it, the wires are reporting something that’s been tossed off – I found that very disappointing. A lot of the time what was written, and Phil Miller at The Herald was especially good at this, and Tim Cornwell at The Scotsman was good at this, was unfortunate, in that one doesn’t like to have anything unpleasant written about one, but actually was fair comment. I also used to be a journalist, I’ve written for The Scotsman, so I know that “The Film Festival’s great, and all’s going well” ain’t much of a story. But every now and again a fact would be twisted to sound like a drama. An example of that is, I was hired to get this festival up, and it was announced that after the Festival the process for recruiting an artistic director would take place. It was a little unfortunate and unnecessary, I thought, that somebody got their hands on that and ran it while I was still in post, I found that really uncomfortable. But what was worse was the implication in the press that I’d been sacked after only four months, that I was fighting for my job… We may not have shared with the press from the beginning that I was on a six/seven month contract, but there’s no question of being sacked. So: most of the time, fair comment and unpleasant to read but fair comment. This is a Festival pedalling very hard to tidy itself up and get itself back together and stand back up on its own two feet, not surprising given its recent history. But lazy journalism, and snipey journalism for its own sake, it’s unfair and unpleasant and unhelpful.

DC: The things that concerned me were the programme, or guide, that was an industry guide rather than a programme. I could see the justification for shrinking it, but I was disappointed that the films were at the back and there wasn’t any writing about them.

JM: You missed the catalogue. Everyone was sad about that, I was disappointed not to be able to do a catalogue. We didn’t have the budget for it and I went scrabbling around trying to raid other bits of the budget, but it was a good ten, eleven thousand pounds that we just didn’t have.

That’s certainly not the only cut that really hurt. One of the invisible ones is that usually a team of three or so would run a certain department, and this year it was a team of two or something. So everyone was really ragged, we worked everyone to absolute exhaustion.

There was lots of data about the films that we couldn’t publish in hard copy. The guest services was hugely reduced, so we had to say No to some people who might want to come because we couldn’t afford expensive hotel rooms and business class flights. If we can resurrect the budget, I would definitely reinstate the catalogue, everyone misses that.

DC: I might be wrong here, but early on there was talk about reducing ticket prices, but in the end they went up.

JM: I think the full price went up. Concessions stayed the same. And the deals were scrapped. And that’s definitely something to reconsider, because that’s been a chorus of disapproval. I don’t necessarily stand behind it. We projected what money we needed to make and how many tickets were on sale and what likely capacities were… in that we did sell those tickets and did less deals that helped us hit out targets. But we’ll take that into consideration. I mean, one element is that if you’re paying full price for five films rather than paying for five films and getting the sixth free, or whatever the deal was, you were less likely to experiment. You’re more likely to, in the end, only go and see three films.

DC: And then you might be less inclined to spend your day in the Filmhouse drinking and eating in the bar, which also brings in money. I definitely know people who normally come for the whole ten days and this year only came for a couple of days, because they couldn’t afford it.

So, I suppose the lack of a big retrospective, because that’s something I always particularly enjoy…

JM: I think we were wise not to attempt to do one in four months. I think it takes a long time to put that together and get it right. Source prints, and find people to write about them, commission writing about them. And I imagine that if we were sitting here two years ago, I’d be able to hint at, without revealing, that we’d already started work on the retrospective for next year. I don’t think that would have been a good thing to rush. I also think that the mini-retrospectives on Jarman, the Hungarians, and Skolimowski filled a void.

DC: Yes, I appreciated seeing them, there were things you’d never expect to see. I think what you don’t get with that is that sense of unity a retrospective can bring, starting on day one and ending on the last day, binding it all together. I don’t know of a substitute for that.

JM: You’re not the first person to say so.

DC: They’ve announced that the Michael Powell Awards will be back…

JM: They have, haven’t they?

DC: With a hint that they were only ever intended to go away for one year…

JM: Well, I have been saying this, over and over again – and I inherited these decisions – all that was tossed away, Michael Powell Awards, red carpets and all that – was for this year of experimentation, and everything is both and off the table. So the Board has listened to various voices and decided the Michael Powell Award is to be reintroduced and that seems to be popular.

DC: Yeah. I’m always happy if somebody gives me an award, but I don’t think they’re important, but they’re probably useful for attracting films – the chance of winning something. The Michael Powell Award was expensive to administer, because of the celebrity jury, but it needn’t be. You don’t necessarily have to have an expensive imported jury.

JM: And that expensive imported jury paid itself off in a way as well, because Danny Huston wandering around town meant that we got lots more coverage. There’s lots of things I’d like to reinstate. One of the things, should I be given another run at it, is having another couple hundred conversations like this, David, although without the Dictaphone necessarily… “What do you think?” You think retrospectives, proceed with the Cinephilia, that works, shorts seem to work, and I’d take all of that seriously, but I’d do it a couple of hundred times. I’d go to London, I’d go to Glasgow, I’d go to New York, and I’d deeply, deeply research what this Festival needs to be for those who need the Festival. Some of them might say, “Bring Michael Powell back,” they might also say “Create a slate of other awards as well.” But if it’s me, it’ll be after a deep consultation.

Similarly with dates. That’s to be taken very seriously and carefully. I hear the clamour for August. I’ve been to four Junes now, and run one, and I’ve been to six Augusts, and I know exactly what they’re saying. It’s amazing out there in August.

DC: But can it filter in here?

JM: It definitely can. And if we use the Cameo. Might go and talk to Cineworld, Vue, we need extra cinemas. The concern is, having left August, that space has clammed up, or been filled up. The Point [Conference Centre] which we used as the delegate centre, is now a [Edinburgh Festival] Fringe venue.

And that’s the second stage. The first stage is, those two hundred conversations.

DC: What I heard from the other people I spoke to was… Hannah McGill obviously had all of the reasons at her fingertips why the move had been made in the first place. They were good reasons.

JM: I’m probably a bit more June than August. A local friend of mine this morning said “Oh it’s lovely that it’s in June, because it’s something else to do in the summer.” As much as we are an industry festival, we can’t forget that four out of five tickets sold are to people within a ten minute bus ride of [postcode] EH3.

DC: Jim Hickey reckoned that a move back to August might be inevitable, just to prove that the Festival is listening to criticism. Whether it’s right or wrong, they might feel they have to…

JM: I think Jim’s very close to the nub of the matter, but not quite. I think there’s lots of things that we can do in June, that if we persist for a year or two, we could double this Festival, where we could never double it by going back to August. That’s exactly what the plan is.

DC: There would be other ways to prove that the Festival is listening to criticism other than a move back to August. And there are other dates that have been floated.

JM: I don’t think the listening process involves reading The Scotsman.

DC: [Laughter]

JM: It involves reading Sight & Sound. And Screen. And Variety. And The Herald to a certain extent, and The Times to a certain extent. It involves a hundred meetings.

DC: The Scotsman, historically, has hated everything Scottish Screen or Creative Scotland have been involved with.

[I do apologise if this is unfair to specific writers at the Scotsman. But it does seem to sum up the paper's overall stance for the last fifteen years.]

JM: The last word on The Scotsman is they’re lucky my mother wasn’t here.

We need to talk about WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.

DC: So, I guess there were specific films that weren’t here –

JM: That we didn’t get, yes. I was working on that list for my director’s report when you announced yourself. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN was the big one. Tilda had made it clear through her agent that she just couldn’t come because she was filming. Lynn [Ramsay] could come. Seamus [McGarvey, cinematographer] could not come. And then after that, other people involved in the project don’t light up the gala so much. Like the boy, and John C Reilly.

And so Artificial Eye said “We’ve got the opportunity to have everybody, on a major junket, on the Croisette. And then we’re not releasing until –” whenever it is, October, September? “So why would I give it to you, given that you are without Tilda? Then they had this huge gap where all that heat would dissipate. I fought for it. Every point he made I countered. But he’d made up his mind.

Then there was YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED. This is the other one I “failed” to get. But I didn’t fail to get it, I chose not to programme it. An average, made-for-telly documentary about Donald Trump’s golf course. And when I rejected it, the filmmaker decided to talk to the press and say that “Mullighan’s scared to programme it,” or “Mullighan is in thrall to Scottish government. They won’t let him programme it.” And the answer was, Edinburgh just wasn’t right for it.

I also “failed” to get THE WICKER TREE. And then I heard about it, I went to Rod, Diane and Jenny [Leask] and everyone, and asked, what have you heard about it, and they went [horrified expression, hands raised as if to ward off great evil ].

So I rang the filmmaker back and said “Well, I don’t think the Festival is quite the right launch pad for your film, what you should do is build yourself a cult experience…” Stopping short of telling him my opinion of the film.

DC: I’ve heard from others who have seen it… you could have shown it, you got knocked for not showing it, but if you had shown it, the criticism would have been so much worse…

JM: But that’s not what [Brian] Pendreigh wants to write about in Scotland on Sunday.

DC: Had it lived up to its illustrious predecessor, obviously it would have been a great addition…And TREE OF LIFE?

JM: Yeah, that sucked. That was on the table, but unlikely, when it was with Icon, who also gave us PROJECT NIM. But they said, “It’s unlikely, there’s always a protracted legal battle with a Malick film.” And then suddenly it was on, and I immediately wrote to them and said “Come on!”, they said “Don’t believe what you’re reading online, it’s very difficult,” and then suddenly, and this is now well after the Festival book has been printed and there’s only two weeks to go to the Festival, Icon lose it and Fox Searchlight get it. And so we ring Fox Searchlight and say, “Of course: what do you want for THE TREE OF LIFE? Especially, I hear there’s a 70mm print kicking around, that’d be quite nice in Filmhouse 1, what do you need?” She said, “James, I don’t know if I can… this is a month before it comes out. We’ve only got it yesterday […] For me, you’re an administrative complication, not an opportunity.” I went, “Well, whatever I can do, whatever I can do…” She said, “Well, I’ll talk to you at the end of the day.” I talked to her at the end of the day and she said, “I just don’t want to.”

DC: Frustrating. Hannah said, because people who are watching from the outside aren’t party to all this, they make the assumption that everything’s your choice.

JM: Yeah. Why have I turned down THE TREE OF LIFE, or Why have I tried to get it and failed? Which I admit: I tried to get it and failed.

DC: And “Why have you chosen to have a film festival that’s not as big as Cannes?”

JM: We don’t have the endowments to put on those shows. Our budget was well under a million pounds this year.

DC: And Cannes excludes the public, it’s an entirely different event.

JM: People don’t consider what those film festivals are for, they consider the pictures of the actresses on the front pages of the newspapers. The critics go there and gorge on all these films that are desperate to get into Cannes. And I said in a statement, “We have neither the will nor the appetite to recreate the wattage of Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Toronto”. I  also believe that when Edinburgh gets super-fancy it doesn’t look right. It’s not that kind of town, it’s not LA, it’s not Cannes, it’s not Sydney with its glitterati, you’re just a different breed of people. Haven’t really got the buildings for it, don’t have a purpose-built Palais de Festival. The Festival Theatre does work, after a fashion. I also think, in these straitened times, when this country especially has had to suck in its stomach a little bit, squandering – quote me on this – squandering taxpayer money flying in the stars for the sake of a few people who miss that, is just not something I’d be interested in even if I had the budget.

DC: I heard that a previous year was offered Brangelina, but that was going to be $300,00 or something.

JM: Brangelinas cost. Bela Tarr came EasyJet.

Imagine a Freedom of Information request, if we’d had two million pounds and we’d spent it on Brangelinas, and we’d kept half a dozen journalists and fifty people from Edinburgh high society happy. I’d rather be answering these questions than those.

And then, when you do it without trying to do it, we were fortunate Ewan MacGregor comes to town, fortunate Kings of Leon were playing Murrayfield the next day, and you don’t block off the street in a metropolis, you do it in a big building and you get a hundred people with their iPhone cameras and you get a few burly security guards to make sure there’s no crush, in comes Ewan, Ewan stands on stage, packed house, and it’s beautiful. That’s all you need. That’s why we were trying to distinguish between a red carpet as a piece of fabric and a red carpet as an approach. The approach is the ugly thing, I think.

Certainly that’s how it’s going to happen for the next few years whoever runs the show.

It’s quite nice to be with Ewen Bremner at one o’clock in the morning at the Library Bar in the Teviot, that’s great. If people who are famous want to come, please do!

DC: What else do you think, for going forward, for whoever comes into the job, you or anybody else? What’s the way forward?

JM: I do believe that with careful planning and building new partnerships you can pretty much double the score with roughly the same dates, with more films, I think that’s a worthy goal. And I think that having conversations with suppliers, producers, sales agents and distributors, starting those conversations in September rather than February, will mean that the odd Tyrannosaur we didn’t get because we tried to do it too fast, we would get, so the programme would get beefed up a little. Also I think what we learned – if the successor wants to pursue the guest curator stuff, that could become a much bigger, more lively, more compelling, audience-diversifying proposition. I know there’s a lot of low-hanging brand fruit out there, the likes of which we used for the shorts weekend, that we don’t have to put stars on red carpet with champagne brand experiences. You can go and get those brands if you want. I just think you can tease out some of this programming and offer it as a package to a brand, so that it speaks to their values. And once they’ve paid for it, you can do more of it and take risks. I think we’ve barely skimmed the surface of what we can do with science. And popular science never has been more so. Popular scientists are quite like the rock stars now, Brian Cox is playing stadia. Brian Cox and Ben Goldacre, I’m not saying they’re coming, but I know we could build those up.

I’m a big believer in – because this is not the first Festival I’ve run – and inevitably we’re shagged out at this exact moment in the year – but I do believe a festival can have year-round activity which means it’s not solely reliant for its success in what happens in the big ten or twelve days. And even though you have a calendar year of sorts, there’s still an Edinburgh Film Festival brand which could package and present content outside of Edinburgh, maybe around Scotland, Britain, or overseas. I think it’s a good revenue generator. I think festivals kill themselves putting themselves on and only rarely do they have a year-round programme of events which generates revenue – the Sundance Institute would be a perfect example of that, and an aspiration of mine is to emulate some of the best things that they do. Which is, you have your massive showcase of films, and included in that showcase are films which have been developed within the Sundance Institute’s laboratories. And one of the conditions is that the premiere would be at Sundance. So it becomes a double Sundance film. I see no reason why that couldn’t happen here. We’ve got fantastic talents, and fantastic talents come to this Festival as well. I would take that even a step further and make our lab a cross-platform fiction lab. So film might be at the centre of the project, but other things as well.

We weren’t partners with the University this year, we just used one of their buildings, and we did that quickly, but more of it could be done. Which means I think we could find a trail of buildings from here [Filmhouse] to Teviot which would make that walk feel smaller. The appetite was high but the timing was bad to use Edinburgh College of Art, because of their grad shows, but it’s full of cool spaces and it’s halfway. And once you get to there, the whole university precinct is empty in June.

But we got George Square [Theatre], I think that worked really nicely, that venue.

In the hoped-for event that I get another run at it, and it ends up being in June again, I would use the Festival Theatre a lot more, because it works now, and they’re used to us now. We did five shows in there. We did the very different propositions that are THE LION KING in 3D, the Kings of Leon with the band on stage, PAGE 8 with Bill Nighy onstage, and PERFECT SENSE. Each of them are completely different films, all of them the people said “This is the best room this film’s played in.” It’s an opera theatre, surprisingly it’s big, it’s really quite steep, and they took our head of tech’s advice and spent heavily when they kitted it out, so the tech’s beautiful in there.

We’ve had quite a bit of feedback from delegates about how we could make things better as well. A few of them were disappointed with the numbers of films in the videotheque. I think the answer to that problem is, rather than it being a box-ticking exercise, it’s actually about talking to them patiently about what the risks and rewards are of having a film in the videotheque. I think a lot more of them could be convinced. It was beautiful this year, much bigger…

DC: You’ve said that if it were up to you, you’d like to do the job again, despite the attacks, the criticism, the stress of it all… do you think there’s support for that, and if there’s resistance, what do you think the resistance is based on?

JM: To me doing it again? There’s plenty of people in this organisation who are fans. I think what the Festival needs to be, in its next edition, needs to be very thoroughly thought through. And if the board decide that what they need is a cineaste in the old mould, someone who watches films all day, then it’s pretty unlikely that I’d get the job. It seems that’s what they’re recruiting for, and I’m going to apply anyway with my vision of what the Festival should be, and then we’ll see how that goes down.

DC: Thank you very much.

The Edinburgh Dialogues #2: Hannah McGill

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2011 by dcairns

Number two in my series of conversations with former directors of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. These unsung heroes, toiling in the service of cinephilia, don’t often get the attention they deserve. What we’re attempting here is a look back, clear-eyed and free of nostalgia, but with affection where appropriate, and a look forward, boldly and imaginatively.

Hannah McGill ran the EIFF from 2007 to 2010, putting on retrospectives on such filmmakers as Shirley Clarke, Anita Loos, Jeanne Moreau, and also After the Wave, an estimable event celebrating those filmmakers who followed the British New Wave of the sixties — this series appealed to me so much I wrote about it here, here and here.

Hannah supervised the fest’s move from its August slot in the midst of the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Book Festival, and Edinburgh Festival Fringe, to a June position where it stands virtually alone on the stage — audiences rose the year of the move, aided by an influx of cash for events and publicity.

I asked Hannah most of the same questions I asked Mark Cousins, knowing full well I’d get entertainingly different answers –

1) Favourite/oddest moments of being Festival director.

Hannah: This will be a bit random because there are many, many scattered moments.

Meeting John Waters and Bela Tarr, and introducing them to each other – that was cool.

Laughing so much interviewing Judd Apatow onstage that I stopped being able to speak.

Telling award-winners that they’d won was always absolutely lovely, as was the awards ceremony itself.

Being stopped by strangers who wanted to gush about something they’d seen and loved.

Full houses for our Jeanne Moreau retrospective. All our retrospectives, in fact – that was a special thing because it took so much research and hunting down of prints; it was so satisfying to get it up onscreen.

Seeing the red carpet at the Festival Theatre in 2010 – the beauteous culmination of much labour and stress.

Introducing the Under the Radar strand and meeting extraordinary filmmakers through it like Rona Mark, Zach Clark and Martin Radich.

Cinematographers: Seamus McGarvey, Chris Doyle, Roger Deakins, Antony Dod Mantle.

Happy late nights in the Filmhouse bar when I should have been well asleep.

Roger Corman, Ken Russell, Clair Denis, the Quay brothers. People who were just utterly charming and sweet, like Sir Patrick Stewart, and people who were hilarious, like Stellan Skarsgaard.

I shall not list individual films, for we shall be here all day and also I may cry. 

2) Worst aspect of the job.

Hannah: Unpredictability, of everything. 

Also: it can feel thankless, because everyone wants different things from it, and people tend to have very strong, angry opinions about it – which are often unencumbered by knowledge of how festivals and the film industry work. There’s this received wisdom peddled by the Scottish press that the film festival ought to be Cannes, and by not being Cannes, evidently isn’t trying hard enough.

Well, Cannes has roughly a 30 million euro budget; happens alongside the world’s most massive film market; and doesn’t admit ordinary paying public. (And actually, when you’re there, is kind of a massive stressful faff a lot of the time). Building Cannes to the stature that it has in industry terms took many decades of massive investment.

So kneejerk, ill-informed criticism of that nature was always galling. As was the ‘can’t win’ factor – in the same year, you get picked at for having not enough celebrities and too many celebrities; not enough obscure art films and too many obscure art films. There’s a weird resistance to the idea that the point of a festival is variation and range. The audience seem to get that rather more than the press, who are always looking for a quick editorial line – and in Scotland, usually want to find a negative one. Often, you’re being slated for things that are just part of the reality of any film festival: variable screening facilities; films of different styles and quality; some films that are there for primarily commercial reasons; films that prove unavailable; guests that cancel. The standard you’re being held to – an uninterrupted flow of undiscovered, commercially appealing, artistically flawless works, all ready for release at the same time, supported by celebrity casts who are eternally available and pay for their own plane tickets out of the sheer love of film! – is a fantasy.

You do have to rise above press quibbles, but I think there are serious consequences: the fact of the festival being so picked on for what it’s not, rather than celebrated for what it is, has had an effect on its sales and its standing. Last year a London journalist criticised the festival for having too many big commercial films. This year, the same journalist declared it a failure again, because…? No big commercial films. I bit a hole in my newspaper. (Except I didn’t, because I was reading it online, for free, the better to hasten the demise of print journalism. Ha ha ha.)

3) What would you recommend to improve the festival next year?

Hannah: I recommend that it be run by a consortium of Scottish arts reporters: they know how to make it PERFECT. No. Not really.

Just an empowered artistic director, with a full year to prepare a programme, and realistic ambitions clearly conveyed by the messaging. An acceptance, confidently embraced and properly expressed, that the financial climate and the changing film distribution world mean that the festival IS going to alter and evolve, and not turn into a multi-million pound extravaganza overnight, or go back to exactly how it was in 2003 or 1985 or 1972. 

4) The move to June.

Some facts re June as there is a lot of disinformation abounding out there: the move had been discussed for years (was in fact first proposed by M Cousins in the 90s).

The Board and management decided to pursue it in 2008, on the basis that Edinburgh was utterly overloaded in August (it is); that the tourist intake to the city weren’t coming to the film festival, whereas local and rest-of-Scotland audiences were staying away due to general August fatigue (also true); that hotels and transport and venue space were all jam-packed and overpriced (they are); and that the festival had no space to grow and establish itself as a significant international film event as long as it was seen as an adjunct of the other fests (I habitually used to get asked ‘do you programme all that theatre as well?’!!).

Arts pages were also completely overstretched, and the film fest didn’t get the coverage it merited. Also from a programming pov, August was crap. Blockbusters taking up multiplex space, whole of Europe on holiday, MUCH too close to the London film festival.

We canvassed distributors and the bulk of them thought it was a great idea. And that was why we decided to try moving.

Sorry to witter on, but I am sick of the press talking as if it happened for no good reason!! 

In addition: I can see why there are arguments for moving back, because people are sentimental about the August date, and Edinburgh’s exciting then. Also, the move to June by Sheffield, and Sundance doing a July event In London in 2012, are both new pressures on June. But the reasons we moved still stand. And next year, aren’t there some Olympics in August? Would you want to be going up against that??

Well, I hate sport, so I’d welcome a distraction while all that jumping around is going on, but I can see it might have an adverse affect on attendance…

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