EIFF Blog: "It's Almost Like Last Year Didn't Happen"

Submitted by edg on Tue, 26 Jun '12 11.32am

EIFF artistic director Chris Fujiwara is ubiquitous. He's maintaining a daily blog with commentary on the festival, offering up recommendations via YouTube, while trying to be everywhere on the ground for guests, delegates, and audiences alike. There he is at the Filmhouse with Tabu director Miguel Gomes (above). And there he is again in another guise at the Traverse on Sunday night, playing bass in a 90-minute concert with his Philippine band The Brockas.

Like its director, EIFF 2012 has many aspects. One of which Fujiwara pays close attention to is retrospectives. He seems in confident mood on this front, already declaring this year's retrospective of Shinji Somai “a great success”.

Somai has never really gained much of a reputation outside his native Japan (as a search for a subtitled copy of one of his films will reveal). But in one of his EIFF vlogs Fujiwara suggests Somai is seen as “the missing link between the end of the studio system and the rise in independent filmaking in Japan.”

Fujiwara's recommendation, Typhoon Club (“a masterpiece”), in which an oncoming typhoon is paralleled by the changing emotional states of a group of school children, screened Saturday.

As journo and EIFF submissions viewer David Cairns points out in his blog, Edinburgh's recent spate of rain storms has been very much in keeping with the content of the retrospective “given that Somai’s characters are always getting soaked to the skin”. There's some more Somai - and no doubt rain - still to come. 

The other retrospective to look out for is of work by Gregory Le Cava, described by Fujiwara as “a multi-dimensional filmmaker whose work is only beginning to be known”.

Le Cava is perhaps best-known for entertaining screwball comedies, particularly the brilliant My Man Godfrey – showing on Saturday evening at Filmhouse. There's a delightful twistedness to the Depression era, romantic comedy, whose theme, about how the idle rich use the poor as playthings, may have added resonance and humour in these financially straitened times.

There's six of Le Cava's films showing at the festival and six more after the festival at Filmhouse.

Shadow of yesteryear

There appears to be a general sense of relief and genuine excitement surrounding this year's EIFF. Ever since the launch of the programme, and palpably since the EIFF opening gala Killer Joe blew away the doubts, there has been a much more positive vibe about this year's festival and where it's headed.

Gone are the tumbleweeds blowing through empty corridors of last year's EIFF HQ. Awards and the red carpets are back. There's some glamour and famous faces about (e.g jurors Elliot Gould and Jim Broadbent, pictured below at the opening night party). 

Jurors at opening party

Now the most pressing problem is that there's “too much on”.

There's still some residue of bitterness over last year's poorly concocted programme though, as illustrated by a news item in Scotland on Sunday about the appointment of former EIFF artistic director Mark Cousins as a patron of the festival, joining actor Robert Carlyle, film-maker Seamus McGarvey, and actor Tilda Swinton.

Cousins and Swinton (below) were behind last year's "blueprint" for the festival, after big cuts to the EIFF 2011 budget.

Mark Cousins and Tilda Swinton

Brian Ferguson writes: 'The man behind a revamp of the Edinburgh International Film Festival that led to it being branded a “disaster” and a “debacle” has been made a patron of the rescued event.'

Richard Mowe, journalist and French Film Festival UK director, who has been a longstanding advocate of moving the festival back to August, says critics from London and overseas have told him they will not be coming to the festival this year.

“I think there will be a lasting legacy,” says Mowe.

Murray Grigor also argues in the article that “people like Mark Cousins” were responsible for pushing for the festival to move to  June several years ago. Grigor says that with the change of date the festival's “seeds of destruction” were sown.

Strong words. Certainly, the calendar change creates a new dynamic. Seeds were certainly sown. But while Fujiwara and his team may not be able to get the London media to stick around beyond the opening party this year, he appears to be doing a good job of building a provocative and exciting film festival.

As for Mark Cousins, he is sure to be a passionate ambassador for the festival, even if he was involved with some bad choices over the hurriedly put-together programme last year.

So the air is not quite cleared yet. But, with almost twice as many films showing, Fujiwara looks set to deliver on his promise of much better box office numbers (last year ticket sales plummeted from 44,500 to 34,500).

As EG film critic Dylan Matthew commented drily on the “vast improvement” of a film festival this year. “It's almost like last year didn't happen. They're also showing films this year which helps.”