Archive for Filmhouse

Drag Race

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2011 by dcairns

WINGS OF THE MORNING (1937) — shown to a select few as part of Filmhouse’s beloved “Projecting the Archive” programme — was Britain’s first Technicolor film. The great Jack Cardiff, trained in the ways of three-strip at MGM, was camera operator, but Ray Rennahan (an old hand from the two-strip days of DR X) was cinematographer. Harold D Schuster directed, but we don’t care! What concerns us is the gorgeous, soft, muted hues and the bizarro plot turns and genre shifts.

Technicolor is very much under the supervision of Natalie Kalmus, estranged wife of the bloke who invented it — she was drummed out of Hollywood after her dictatorial demands about how colo(u)r should be deployed ran up against the expertise of photographers and designers who could get great results by ignoring her. GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) seems to have been the test case: Kalmus demanded restraint, they cut loose for one scene, found they liked the more vivid look, and booted her off the set. Thereafter Nat K would find herself working exclusively in Britain, getting kicked off sets by Michael Powell. But that hasn’t happened yet in 1937, where it’s forever gentle earth tones, and Natalie Kalmus and her law of restraint holds illimitable dominion over all.

But hey! There’s something to be said for it. The warm pastels compliment the actors’ skin tones, and when a few scenes pop out louder due to unavoidable red London buses and the like, you really feel the vibrancy. This film isn’t good in any recognized sense of the word, but it coasts along on prettiness and peculiarity.

Although this is a 2oth Century Fox production, it’s uniquely British owing to its inadequacies in casting and plotting, but these are so off-the-wall as to instil it with fascination. Only in Britain do we regularly seem to find major top-of-the-line product put together by people who manifestly don’t know the first thing about movies and stories. This one commits an elementary beginner’s mistake by opening twenty years before its main characters are born. For no reason. Never do this: it’s frowned upon in the industry. This protracted prologue presents an unlikely romance between portly landowner Lord Clontaf (pronounced variously by the cast) and a young gypsy “princess” (they like giving themselves extravagant titles, we’re told). He’s Leslie Banks, disastrously — this is one of those films which doesn’t know what to do about his dramatic facial scarring, so as in Powell’s quota quickie THE FIRE STARTERS, they always show him in profile, Like Dick Tracy. But his mouth is distorted by the wound, and so this is much worse than just letting us see him properly: we find ourselves edging round in our seats, leaning across our neighbours, trying to get a better look. What’s wrong with his face? In HOUNDS OF ZAROFF and THE SMALL BACK ROOM and even THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH the face is more or less displayed to full effect, and we don’t mind the scar at all.

The girl is played by Annabella, just before she married Tyrone Power. her accent is thick, charming and unexplained by narrative contrivance. Once the prologue us disposed of her character ages into Dame Irene Vanbrugh, who has a richly English accent, and now we meet a second Annabella, playing the great-granddaughter of the first, having been raised in Spain with the same French accent as before. The Civil War is raging so Annabella escapes the country disguised as a boy — Duchess Maria of Leyva becomes Duke Mario, and then, having wound up back in Ireland where the action started, she carries on in drag for no reason. The insanity of this is questioned by none of her gypsy friends, but it’s basically the source of all the entertainment for the next half hour. For two reasons –

1) Annabella makes a stunning boy. She’s obviously having the time of her life, also. Given that she did marry Tyrone Power, she’s been the subject of rumours, and I’m just going to declare them all true based on this performance alone. And it’s sort of a sweet thought: this wasn’t a lavender marriage where the affection was false. Instead we have two randy bisexuals assuming respectability via holy matrimony, shagging each other senseless and also shagging everything else in sight. If that’s how you roll, it seems a productive arrangement.

I like Annabella well enough as a girl, but she exerts even more attraction in a suit and beret, puffing on a cigar. I’m at a loss to explain it. At this point I would begin to question myself, except I can’t think of anybody else I fancy who wears a suit and smokes cigars, so I don’t really know where to begin.

2) Annabella meets Henry Fonda, playing a Canadian horse trainer. (British films are often coy about shoehorning American stars into the action, so we call them Canadians.) Like Leslie Banks in Part 1, he’s initially far more interested in her horse, but soon he’s sparring aggressively with Duke Mario, spanking him/her, kicking him/her up the arse, and calling him “shrimp.” Hank F probably has less homoerotic fervor about him than any leading man who ever lived, so this sequence doesn’t sparkle with forbidden allure quite as it might with Ty Power in the role (the celluloid would combust!) but that adds to the surreality and giant overhanging question mark about what will happen next. In fact, Fonda learns the truth the hard way by physically tearing Annabella’s shirt off in a bush (long story) — we watch from without as the branches wave and a shrill scream sounds forth. Fonda emerges, visibly shaken, clutching the torn chemise, and stammers “I’m sorry!” Which puts me in mind of this –

Drag artiste Jessie Matthews is revealed in all her girlhood in FIRST A GIRL.

Thereafter, all it takes is for Henry to see Annabella in a beautiful evening gown and he forgets his dislike of the “spoiled brat” and falls madly in love. At which point the movie “introduces” the “world famous tenor” John McCormack (“How can you introduce someone who’s world famous?” asked David Wingrove, on my left) and the movie grinds to a deadly halt as he sings three — THREE!!! — “old favourites.”

Seconds out, round five– having tried its hand at period romance across the class barriers, Spanish Civil War drama (briefly), transvestite romp, and deadly musical, the movie now turns into a racing picture, with Annabella’s great-gran (remember her? She used to be Annabella! DO keep up, will you?) and Hank both entering horses in the Epsom Derby. Cue stunning colour shots of London and humorous Derby Day characters (I’m particularly intrigued by King Honolulu, King of the Derby, a black guy with gold teeth — “I got a HOOORSE!!!”) and a frantically edited finish. If Annabella wins, she’ll be forced to marry snooty Don Diego, but if she loses, her family will be ruined but on the other hand she can marry Hank? How can this be resolved satisfactorily? I know, but I’m not telling.

Fonda also has a very funny dog, called Scruffy, which was my first boyhood dog’s name.

Most images swiped from this excellent article by Murray Pomerance.

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 #3: Jim Hickey

Posted in FILM, Interactive, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2011 by dcairns

Jim Hickey (left) entertains a tee-total guest (note the cans of 7-Up) at Filmhouse in the ’80s.

Jim Hickey is a hero to me. As director of both Edinburgh Filmhouse and Edinburgh International Film Festival, he presided over both institutions at the time I was discovering world cinema. Apart from BBC2 and then Channel 4, there was really no other way for me to see films from outside of the US and UK mainstream.

As you’ll read below, the EIFF took pride in mixing up all kinds of movies, almost as if it were unnecessary to make distinctions between lowbrow and highbrow, narrative and experimental, documentary and fiction. As if in some way it was all cinema. I think that had a deep effect on me, and I sometimes wish it had eradicated my tendency to put things in boxes altogether. But it certainly helped.

Jim was also very kind to me when I worked in the Cinema Shop in Filmhouse, and on one memorable occasion ushered me and my friend Robert into the presence of Martin Scorsese, who was visiting with THE COLOR OF MONEY (as I recall, Robbie Coltraine was also in the room, somehow). This tongue-tied teen couldn’t manage any coherent response at the time, but — THANKS, JIM!

Since stepping down from his positions at Filmhouse and the Fest, Jim has thrown himself into filmmaking, producing acclaimed short THE HUNGER ARTIST and co-producing FROZEN with Shirley Henderson and Roshan Seth.

I spoke to Jim Hickey over coffee and tea at Café Truva, to get his thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the Festival, past, present and (with a little reluctance on Jim’s part) future. But even if you have no particular interest in the event, I suspect you may find the conversation of interest as a window into the film culture generally…

Previous installments can be found here and here.

The souvenir booklet from the Fest’s screening of Gance’s restored NAPOLEON.

DC: The first one, that I’m asking everybody, because even though it’s a banal question it will yield nice results, is: Your fondest memories of running the EIFF?

JH: The happiest moments are often to do with films that have gone on from Edinburgh to do really well later, or films that are now looked at as classic films of that period, or great films. And sometimes they’re just buried in the programme, they’re not huge films that are trumpeted like gala films.

I suppose I ought to go back to when I came in, it was a kind of austerity year as well: it was cut back to about nine days, nine or ten. And people were a bit shocked, “Oh, it’s got to be a two-week festival!” It used to be a three week festival. When I started in the box office in ’69 it was three weeks. And the final week was often a whole lot of films from somewhere like The Other Cinema, or Andi Engel’s Polit Kino, a lot of interesting political or third world films that weren’t in the main programme but were showcasing what we had. And then gradually the three weeks stretched and included everything, and those films weren’t in a single package.

So, when I came in it was almost the worst time to be doing a film festival. Cinema attendances in the late seventies were at their lowest. And so no one was going to cinema much, and video was coming in, and so in ’81 when I started it was a job of trying to get people into cinemas. You decide that “We want you to come here and see films in the best way possible, and with as big an audience as possible, rather than sit at home renting them on video or whatever.” And so the idea of big films – or big screenings – is one of the things I wanted to do. As you mentioned before, the NAPOLEON thing was one of those, to actually do something that caught a lot of attention, and also make people amazed with what kind of experience they could have, not with a brand new film, but with something they’d perhaps never heard of, or never heard of a film in that form.

And we weren’t the first to do that, and we were lucky it had already been done, it had started off in London, and Edinburgh was lucky to be able to do it. It took up a lot of time and effort, and we lost a couple of thousand pounds on it, I think. It cost about £28,000 to do that with a full orchestra. But that was an example of it, and we followed that up a few years later with GREED, done similarly.

I thought that those Playhouse screenings – again, we were lucky to have the Playhouse, which had the equipment and was able to show films, still, although it was moving away from it completely – and so all the big films we did, like ET, BLADE RUNNER, BACK TO THE FUTURE, PARSIFAL, ANGEL HEART, all of those were to grab as many people’s attention as possible. But also to try and be a bit courageous, and put on something that most people thought might not reach a big audience. Like MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR LAWRENCE or BETTY BLUE: starting the festival with a foreign language film was really weird in those days.

There are lots of other things I’m really proud to have shown. Things like WITHNAIL AND I. At the time I saw it in London, the distributors didn’t know quite what to do with it. And I thought, “Well it’s kind of quirky and it would suit Edinburgh. Maybe it would go down well there. Let’s see what happens.” And it was an absolutely fantastic response in Edinburgh.

DC: I saw it there and then waited, waited for it to actually come out, and it barely did, but it took over a year before they let it sneak out. But yeah, that was amazing.

JH: I think the things I’m most proud of doing, or have the best memories of — don’t use the word “proud” [laughs] — are things like the retrospectives which were incredibly hard work, even then, because a lot of the time it was a case of chasing prints down. Because people forget, that’s all we had then, was prints. And the reason we couldn’t do some directors was it was really hard to get prints. So it was great that we had people like David Meeker at the BFI, in the archive, who was this amazing fount of knowledge about where everything is and where the rights holders were, and places like the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, the Cinematheque Francais in Paris, the Japan Foundation, Mrs Kawakita in Japan… you would go to them and be able to get things that completed a retrospective, or at least made it viable. And that was really tough to do, in Lynda’s day it was a big problem, and still a big problem in my day.

But Lynda, and Murray also, because Sam Fuller Year was Murray’s, they did fantastic work then, getting all those Raoul Walsh films, it was just incredible seeing that could be done. So nowadays, look at today’s festival directors, their job is so much easier. With digital projection you can get anything you want virtually, within reason. And we’re lucky with people like Park Circus who do all that good work putting stuff back into distribution again. So that job has become a lot easier. Then, it was tough to do retrospectives. I suppose the shift away from auteur cinema, which in the 60s and 70s was the big thing for retrospectives, to trying to do cinemas from different territories… so my Japanese event, which I did in… 86, was it? You’ll have to check. The Oshima retrospective was probably the last big retrospective I attempted. And we would do mini-retrospectives, things like Charles Crichton or Bernard Vorhaus, things we would do in collaboration with the BFI, of films that had rarely been seen or had just disappeared.

DC: I didn’t actually know you did Vorhaus… I’ve only recently discovered him.

JH: It was in ’86.

DC: I missed so many of the retrospectives because I was not mature enough to be seeking that stuff out.

JH: Of course, well, you were young! What age were you in 86?

DC: Uh, well, uh, 19. No excuse.

JH: Well… Vorhaus was an example, at the National Film Archive, we were interested in one of his films they’d found. The story was nobody knew much about him, or if he was still alive, and one of their people, they just looked in the phone book and there was a Mr Vorhaus, and yes, it was him.

DC: Fantastic. So, did he come?

JH: He came, yeah!

DC: Wow.

JH: Yeah, it was amazing. So I’m really pleased about doing those sort of things, even if there was a select number of people who wanted to see them. But I’m sure other festivals taking up those retrospectives would do them elsewhere was great as well. Suzuki, we did in my final year, and Suzuki films you can get on DVD now, and nobody had seen anything of them, really, before we did stuff at Edinburgh. Well, you may have got the odd one at the NFT, you know, but eventually it all changed.

I was looking at a couple or programmes over the weekend, and I was astounded at some of the titles we had. I couldn’t believe some of the films we had, or the number of really good directors’ films we had. Gus Van Sant’s MALA NOCHE, for example, was at Edinburgh. That was one I saw in Berlin, it was in the Forum at Berlin, and it went down really great at a late night screening. I was with Tony Rayns at the time. Tony was someone else who was great for Edinburgh, and did a lot of the work on the Japanese thing we did – he had so many more contacts than I could ever have got. And Tony was really enthusiastic about MALA NOCHE, he said “We’ve got to have this.” I said, “Yeah, it’s great for Edinburgh: a perfect Edinburgh film.” People like Gregg Araki, who now gets films out there – there’s a quarter page ad in The Guardian for his recent film – and you think, “Wow, that’s Wee Gregg who used to come over in those days.”

For me, it’s hard to pick because I was working there all through Lynda’s years, not doing all the work that she did, but supporting her, and we had viewings of films at night, because that’s what you had to do to select them. And the films that she had, I remember big screenings like ALIEN – screened at The Odeon at midnight, at Ridley Scott’s request, and he was there. And I have never seen an audience as scared as the one we had at that. And a lot of smaller films, like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, which people forget was at Edinburgh… it may have been at Cannes before that… and obviously Lynda would find stuff at Cannes in her days, but Edinburgh was one of the first stopping places after Cannes in that summer.

I suppose we had a rock and roll mentality as well, we filled the Festival as much as possible with music films, THE LAST WALTZ, KEEP ON ROCKIN’, THE STONES IN HYDE PARK, the Charlie Watts film CHARLIE IS MY DARLING. Some disappeared but have come back eventually, twenty, thirty years later. I really enjoyed those. All the Andy Warhol films we showed. John Lennon/Yoko Ono shorts, we showed. We opened the Festival one year – we had two, one was called ERECTION and was mostly about a building going up, and the other was… well, essentially the film was a balloon going up into the sky, and it took off, and you saw this landscape, and then it went into white, and for two or three minutes the film was completely white, until it burst out of the clouds into the sunlight, and that was the end of the film. And that was our opening film! It was the support on with the opening film, which was pretty courageous, I suppose.

But you know, Edinburgh ought to do things like that, because we always were a sort of maverick event – that was the term Murray [Grigor] used to use. From those late ‘sixties we decided it would be a maverick festival that didn’t do what the big ones do – simply because it can’t, it doesn’t have the money, it’s not a market because we can’t attract people in that way, and Edinburgh has to find its own level, and so that’s what it did.

DC: What I realised looking back is that my own sensibility – to the extent that my blog has any guiding philosophy it’s to jumble together arthouse and exploitation and whatever I happen to watch, and regard it as all essentially the same.

JH: We came to believe that if we put it in the programme, people would come. Because they trusted us as curators or whatever you like to call it, or presenters, of those films, and for the opportunity to see the filmmakers, because we always believed right from the start that the filmmakers should be at Edinburgh if we could afford it. We very rarely refused anybody if we could get the money together.

But there were some: we wanted to do Budd Boetticher, because we were showing his bullfight film [either ARRUZA or MY KINGDOM FOR...] and I think we were talking about a retrospective maybe, but he wanted to come from Mexico, and we would have to pay his whole flight, first class, and we ended up saying “No” eventually because we couldn’t do it. There was just so little money. You’ll see in some of the older programmes you may have, the grant from the City Council used to be £1.50 or something. And it was listed at the beginning of the programme, if you look at them from the ‘60s, you’ll see those amounts we used to get, and it was just silly. But we were grateful for it! That may have been big money in those days.

So that’s memories…

DC: And personalities?

JH:  Tremendously, the Germans, Wenders and Herzog coming, obviously Scorsese and DePalma, they were here the same year, and that was amazing. Jean-Jacques Beineix, I enjoyed his visit…

DC: I saw the guest book once, which he had signed “the frog”.

JH: [Laughter] Yes. They were all in that guest book. The problem is, quite often they were just here for two or three days, we didn’t have a lot of time with them because Edinburgh couldn’t pay for a lot of accommodation. So quite often you’d get to see them at dinner, then have to rush away to introduce a film before the dinner ended… To me it was fantastic when all these people came, I just enjoyed filmmakers coming. Jim Jarmusch was always a big hit, because he came a few times. People like Amos Poe, the New York filmmakers.

DC: What was the worst aspect of the job?

JH: I think in my time, not having enough money to do more publicity… when I look at what the festival can do in that last decade or so, the amount of posters they get up, banners and advertisements, you just feel they’re able to put the word out much better than we ever could. And that’s without even thinking about the internet and what you can do there. We were lucky to get a fax machine round about 1986! Everything was done in letters. We would write to directors, “Dear Mr Walsh, we are doing a retrospective of all your films and would be delighted if you were able to come.” And he would send a nice letter back saying he was unable to come. But nowadays that would be so much easier.

And your network of contacts – that thing we used to believe, that there was a film community. People you met at festivals who would advise you about films, you’d go to screenings together, talk about them afterwards, that was one of the real pleasures of the job. I don’t think there were really that many things that weren’t pleasant about it. It was hard work but it was doing the thing you loved doing.

DC: Mark [Cousins] said that it was the way the whole year was structured for him was his least favourite thing.

JH: But with Mark, that’s because he’s doing so many other things, I think. He’s making films, he’s writing, he’s got all these deadlines. And he’s young enough to be able to do that. I suppose I was young enough to be able to do Filmhouse and the Festival at the same time. I couldn’t do it now, it’d just be impossible.

Apart from just that lack of funds… more funds would have brought over more filmmakers as well. We always regretted, “Well, we can’t even ask that guy ‘cause he’s from South America and it would just be ridiculous,” and so in the end they couldn’t come. Had we had more money that would have been my ambition: have all the filmmakers, give them three days accommodation, that’s common these days, it’s what they get pretty much.

DC: So, moving forward to the future… what do you think about the change of date?

JH: From talking to lots of people during the Festival, and of course reading everything online, I would say the move to August is becoming inevitable. I can’t see the industry… I mean, I read Hannah’s comments about the reasons for the move, and I was behind the move too, I was always behind going to June. I thought, with that kind of money they’d been given to re-establish it in a different way, that was the best time there would ever be. It’s like saying, at least have a go, for the three years. I thought they could win over the city, and become the only show in town: that’s what we had to be. If you could do that, then it would really work.

And whatever point in the year Edinburgh is, of the few that are available to it, the June month or the August/September months, you’re going to hit these big things like Venice, and Toronto, the Documentary Festival in Sheffield now hits you in June, that’s another problem… I just think if they stay in June it’ll seem as if they’re not listening. Almost a universal cry seems to be “Get it back to August. Give us the Festival we like, the way it has been, successfully.” Because now, in a way, June has been tainted with lack of success.

DC: Is that rational? The first year they moved to June was apparently very successful.

JH: And I thought it worked. I was pleased because I thought “They can now build on this.”

There were certain people I’m friends with in the festival world and they said “Oh no, it’s a bad idea and I’d never countenance a move to June,” but usually they were people from down south, because they love coming up here at that time of year. Now, I know all the disadvantages, travel, and hotels and everything are more expensive, if you can get them at all…

DC: Venues…

JH: Venues could be tough. But, you know, they had an open goal this year to put it in any venue they wanted, really, and look what happened. So this year they have to decide on the venues right up front, let people know which cinemas they’re using – and that may involve going back to Cineworld, I don’t know. It depends on the emphasis the director wants to give it, in terms of how much he or she is going to try to appeal to the public.

A lot of people still think it’s in August. A taxi driver I had a week ago said, “Oh, has the Festival been on yet?” And another one, when it had started, said “Oh, I thought it was in August, did it just move.” So the message didn’t permeate through, that it was in June. So with all the difficulties of going back to August, it makes it a lot more easy for people to understand, and it shows they’ve been listening to what people have said this year.

DC: And it gives an extra couple of months…

JH: It gives whoever gets the job two more months to get it on the road. And I think they need to give a very clear signal as to what Edinburgh’s about. Because that’s got lost, in the mud of misinformation and bad reports and gossip and all the rest.  They need to be able to say next year, “This is Edinburgh, and if you don’t know about Edinburgh, this is what it is, what it’s always stood for, but it’s moving on and it’s doing all sorts of other things that it never used to do in the good or the bad old days…” 

And if that involves a retrospective, which I personally think it should do – and I don’t mean necessarily an auteur retrospective – but a packaging-together of an event around something that the director believes people would really enjoy. …In Shane’s days, Shane [Danielsen] told you, “These films are going to be really enjoyable.” He loved them, that communicated itself, and we need a bit more of that now. The guy knows his films, he can tell you that ten minutes in, this actress is wearing a certain frock, and that’s worth looking out for. It gets people interested and it’s funny and it’s the way people talk about films.

DC: I like auteur retrospectives because there’s no question about why this group of films are together. 

JH: It turns out they’re the things people can latch onto as well, if it’s an individual, people get a grasp of what you’re trying to do more easily. So yes, I would definitely favour a retrospective.

I’d be interested in seeing a retrospective of some cinematographers, because that’s something where it’s evident – what you’re looking at is what they’ve done. Having those people talking… some of the best things I’ve seen in recent years have been the talks with Roger Deakins talking to Seamus McGarvey, Chris Doyle… Those events are fantastic, to listen to experts, people who are pre-eminent, talking about what they do.

Chris Doyle, Seamus McGarvey, Rain Li & Roger Deakins in Edinburgh.

DC: I think the first year I saw a lot of that was possibly during Penny Thompson’s tenure, and it was continued by Mark Cousins. [Penny called them Masterclasses, Mark called them Scene by Scenes, a title and format he later used for his TV interview show.] 

JH: That’s right. Edinburgh would do those as much as possible, and now it should do it, because it can do it. Put money into that. And I know it’s hard to get people because they’re always committed, they’re doing festivals or they’re in the middle of shooting, but you’ve really got to push to get those.

DC: An advantage is that so many British cinematographers have amazing longevity…  Douglas Slocombe’s still alive! I don’t know if he’s fit to travel…

JH: Again, some of those things could be done via video link-up. They stay at home and we do it from there.

DC: The Mark Cousins David Lynch interview was great. And hilarious.

JH: We want more of that!

There’s no point in saying “Documentary’s important,” that’s kind of self-evident these days. Documentary’s a huge part of world cinema now. It depends on how you’re going to serve it up. What context you put it in and which group of films you pursue. And you have to look at what other people are doing and see how you could be different. Look at what Sheffield’s doing, and there’s no point in taking them on. You have to try and do something that is Edinburgh’s way of looking at it. And that’s going to be quite hard: finding documentaries where people aren’t thinking “Oh, they’ll be on TV,” or “That was at Sheffield, I read the reviews so I’m not going to see it.” You know, that’s pretty tough, because it’s another British festival who’s doing it alongside you.

And also I think your web presence… you’ve got to decide what’s important for you to get up there, and find ways so people who aren’t at Edinburgh can enjoy it. Do more live things. I mean they obviously did their Kings of Leon event, which went to lots of cinemas simultaneously, didn’t it? But that kind of thing. Have somebody on stage that everybody sees is happening at Edinburgh. And that, again, is easier to do now. If they could sort that out, they’d feel they were reaching an audience they’d missed, because they think it’s elitist, or inertia, or whatever it is.

And make it more accessible in terms of the pricing. There was a lot of criticism of the pricing this year.

DC: There was an announcement, I think, that the prices would be lower, and the prices were higher.

JH: Yes. Nine quid was outrageous.

DC: And discount deals make money, they don’t cost money. People buy more tickets than they would otherwise, and spend their day at the Festival buying food and drink in the venues…

JH: Discount deals are essential, you have to do that. That’s what people expect. I talked to several friends who come regularly and who I know spend over a hundred pounds on tickets, and they said “This year, I’m not doing it. That gets me into ten.” And so you think, well, they’ve lost those people. They probably won’t even come to ten now, because they’re disgusted at having to do this. So it’s bad PR. For people who are experts in marketing, they made some pretty bad errors this year, and that can’t happen again, they’ve really got to sort that out. Because people have to feel it’s for them, the minute they feel they’ve been priced out, your festival just becomes something for the arty crowd.

DC: And the people who get in free.

JH: Yeah, that’s right, the delegates and… freeloaders, as they used to be called in my day. [laughter] Who get into everything. But it’s sometimes better to have those people in the cinema than none at all. The answer is easy, to that one, isn’t it?

What we want is a Festival that does something that isn’t what Filmhouse does year-round. Because Filmhouse now does an amazing amount of mini-festivals, throughout the year: the African Festival, the Middle East Festival, French, Italian, all of those, fantastic! I’m amazed how many films they have in those slots. Obviously digital makes it easier to do that now. So Edinburgh can’t, at festival time, do that, but it has to do something that’s somehow beyond the reach of Filmhouse, either financially or in terms of the people it could bring. Because it would really wreck the Filmhouse budget to bring several filmmakers from long distances for a particular event. So they could really build on that sense of a Festival you wouldn’t see during the year, something different.

DC: It has to be. There was the man on the bus who said he struggled to see what would be different about seeing a film at the Film Festival as opposed to seeing one normally. Well, we have to answer that question. They talk about the “Edinburgh brand”, but it has to include the answer to that. Why come to a festival?

JH: Uh huh. And I think it’s events, as well. Events are necessary, and we should put a ban on the words “red carpet”. We should just not talk about it. We should talk about great films, great events, that are memorable for people. And a programme that has real nuggets in it that people will always look back on. Looking back through some of Edinburgh’s programmes, I’m just stunned, looking at the quality of some of the films we had. 

And it’s about memories too.

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