The 2012 Edinburgh International Film Festival felt like a miraculous resurrection of a dying event. The world’s longest-continually-running Film Festival had been brought low last year by mismanagement, but an exciting program, tight organization and rejuvenated spirits has brought it back from the brink.
The Friends / Summer Garden (1994) – directed by Shinji Sômai
New artistic director Chris Fujiwara lined up a panoply of new films from around the world, including focuses on the Philippine New Wave, featuring Lav Diaz’s six-hour philosophical drama Florentina Hubaldo, CTE, and the recent cinema of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. He also revived the strong tradition of retrospectives at Edinburgh, screening the complete works of Shinji Somai, a neglected Japanese master of the 80s and 90s, and a sampling of Hollywood’s screwball king Gregory La Cava (six films, followed by another six after the Festival). Somai was a distinctive stylist with consistent obsessions, present across a wide range or genres and tones, and though he’s hugely influential in Japan, outside of it he’s been little seen or appreciated. La Cava was responsible for some very famous comedies (Stage Door, My Man Godfrey), but the breadth of his oeuvre is rarely understood: seeing a few of his best films together creates a new understanding of his talent. I heard more than one person describe the showing of Feel My Pulse (1928) with live piano accompaniment as their Festival high point.
Killer Joe(2011) – Matthew McConaughey
The bold choice of William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, a vicious noir comedy, for opening gala, paid off, with director and star Gina Gershon in attendance and the audience mostly charmed despite the film’s savagery and possible misogyny. For closing film, Pixar’s Brave was a natural, given Disney’s friendly support over the years, and the film’s Scottish setting. It was nice to see a black tie event where many of the audience were under twelve.
Such dress code screenings are by their nature exclusive, and one possible criticism of the Festival is that it doesn’t reach out enough to the public. It is elitist, not because it shows obscure and foreign films (though there are sectors of the Scottish press which may believe that), but because the prices prevent ordinary cinemagoers from taking part in everything on offer. If you want to encourage people to try films they haven’t heard of, charging extra isn’t the way to do it. An argument can be made that the Festival, by lowering prices, could increase admissions and come out even.
But for now, the mood is elevated, as audiences got to see, at long last, Nicholas Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again, the digitally restored Laurence of Arabia, as well as new work from James Marsh, Shinya Tsukamoto, Christine Laurent, Joe Swanberg, Peter Strickland and Victor Kossakovsky. After the dispiriting program last year, this was heaven.