News feature by Sian Thatcher
This year saw the 60th anniversary of the Edinburgh Film Festival and it was a fitting celebration for an institution that prides itself on showcasing British talent and bringing documentary to the forefront of cinema.
With this in mind, the festival opened aptly with the world premiere of locally produced The Flying Scotsman from director Douglas Mackinnon, to rapturous applause from the audience. Starring Trainspotting’s Johnny Lee Miller, this is the true story of celebrated Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree, a former world champion who broke the world one-hour record on a home-made bike. It follows his life's victories as well as his battles with mental health problems.
And there were plenty of other highlights from this year’s festivities – a bumper documentary section, with 23 films screened; the Reel Life interview line-up, which included Brian DePalma, Charlize Theron and Sigourney Weaver; and, of course, ground-breaking director of Bonnie and Clyde Arthur Penn leaving New York after a stint in hospital just to speak at the festival.
Indeed, this festival was the perfect fusion of triumphant cinema and cutting-edge celebrity guests. Even the jury panel of the Michael Powell Award had star pull – it comprised the actor who played the Elephant Man, John Hurt, Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig, Booker prize-winning author John Banville, acclaimed director of Shooting Dogs, Michael Caton-Jones, and rock legend Chrissie Hynde.
This just shows how well-thought of the EIFF is and how it has become a true home of innovative and exciting cinema. Indeed, it was this festival that brought Tsotsi to international attention last year, which resulted in an Academy Award for the film. It has also highlighted Run Lola Run, Billy Elliot, AmÈlie, Young Adam, American Splendor and Motorcycle Diaries – no mean feat.
Quality has always been of the highest calibre, so what cinematic gems would it bring to the table this year? Well, we have the British premiere of the Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, which received rave reviews. A sports-film-cum-work-of-art, Turner Prize-winning artist and filmmaker Douglas Gordon has teamed up with French artist Philippe Parreno to produce this meditation on footballer Zinedine Zidane, filmed over the course of a single match between Real Madrid and Villareal. Gloriously simple and well-edited, this film is experimental and highly successful in showing the legendary sportsman doing what he does best.
Another must-see film is An inconvenient truth. In this documentary, former US vice-president and presidential candidate Al Gore delivers an important lesson on global warming. He has made it his crusade to bring this issue to the forefront and this film is based on the lecture he has been touring for a number of years – an unforgettable and chilling reminder of why we should be turning lights off.
Flying the flag for Britain, we had Driving lessons, starring Julie Walters. Walters is fabulous, as always, as a grande dame actress who befriends a young boy (Rupert Grint of Harry Potter fame). While it isn’t as good as other films of this genre – Billy Elliot, Driving Miss Daisy – it is very likeable and showcases some of the best British talent.
The host, which inspired a bidding war upon its premiere at Cannes, was another favourite. Bong's latest feature – like his 2003 breakthrough, Memories
of Murder – is a blend of genres and tones, but at its most basic, it's a monster movie: a mutant creature emerges from Seoul's Han River and, as monsters do, begins attacking people. A perfect mix of white-knuckle drama and black comedy.
So who was crowned with the ultimate glory amidst all this competition? The superb mockumentary Brothers of the Head won the top honours – the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature Film. Scripted by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas writer, Tony Grisoni, it follows the rise to rock stardom of conjoined twins in a fictional ‘70s band – The Bang Bang. Brilliantly blurring the line between fact and fiction, this was a deserved win for directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pep.
Kevin Smith's raucous comedy Clerks II beat competition to pick up the coveted audience award. Clerks II finishes off where Clerks began, and a whole 12 years on from the last, we catch up with the original characters. While it has been Hollywoodised and lacks the gritty, realistic cinematography of the first, it is, by parts, hilarious and touching – easily the sweetest film to feature an act of bestiality.
The inaugural Best Documentary Feature Award went to Jake Clennell for The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief, which details the lives and loves of male escorts in Japan. The great happiness space is Osaka’s Rakkyo CafÈ: a club where a staff of 20 young men are groomed to become the top male escorts in the city. A compelling insight into the lesser-known side of Japan.
Indeed, prostitution became a vague theme when it came to award-giving, as London to Brighton won director Paul Andrew Williams the Skillset New Directors Award. The urban thriller charts 24 hours in the life of a prostitute and a young runaway, fleeing to Brighton in a desperate attempt to save their own lives. Made on a shoe-string budget, this still packs the punch of a heavy-weight slick Hollywood thriller. Add to your ‘must-see’ list.
The shorts in short
The UK Film Council Kodak Award for Best British Short Film went to The Other Man, directed by Dictynna Hood.
Run Wrake’s animated film Rabbit won The McLaren Award for New British Animation.
The co-directors of Zakaria, Gianluca de Serio and Massimiliano de Serio, took home the prize for the European Film Academy Short Film 2006.
The 2006 winner of the Short Scottish Documentary Award, supported by Bailie Gifford, was Edward Brooke-Hitching for The Really Terrible Orchestra.
All in all, a triumphant festival and a fitting celebration of 60 years of the event. The festival closed with Carol Reed's classic Odd Man Out – a British film noir starring James Mason as Johnny McQueen, an IRA chieftain trying to escape from the police after an ill-advised bank robbery. This again shows the festival’s unrelenting dedication to promoting British talent – new and old.