Edgy Edinburgh focuses on discoveries

Event marks artistic director Danielsen's last year

LONDON — The Edinburgh Film Festival turns 60 this year, but it’s definitely not set in its ways. The fest has a youthful new artistic director set to take the helm in 2007, and talk of a major restructuring is in the air.

This year’s event (Aug. 14-27) marks artistic director Shane Danielsen’s last year at the helm before he turns the reins over to 29-year-old film critic Hannah McGill. It is hoped her term at the top will coincide with the creation of a new fest center.

The fest’s managing director, Ginnie Atkinson, is working closely with city authorities to create a center to act as a focal point for all Edinburgh’s moving image orgs. According to Atkinson, the long-term plan is to bring together the festival’s headquarters and the historic FilmHouse cinema to create a six-screen Scottish version of London’s National Film Theater.

Edinburgh has ignored some of the higher-profile Brit pics opening this fall, including Nicholas Hytner’s “The History Boys” and Tom Vaughan’s “Starter for Ten” (both open Oct. 13 in the U.K.), in favor of lower-profile, edgier titles without a distributor.

Pics competing for the Michael Powell Award, given to the best new British feature in the fest, include Chris Cottam and fotog Rankin’s feature debut, “Lives of the Saints,” a London-set magical-realist parable; Paul Andrew Williams’ debut, “London to Brighton,” about a day in the life of a prostitute and a young runaway; James Marquand’s first feature, “Dead Man’s Cards,” about a downtrodden boxer presented with one last opportunity for redemption; and first-time writer-director Col Spector’s “Someone Else,” an examination of how a man with a steady girlfriend is hopelessly drawn to a fiery temptress.

Danielsen is passionate that Edinburgh should be a “forum of discovery.” Only two of the 10 pics world-preem at Edinburgh have U.K. distrib deals in place — Richard Laxton’s hip-hop drama “Life and Lyrics” (UIP) and Williams’ “London to Brighton” (Vertigo).

Many fest-watchers were surprised that Andrea Arnold’s Cannes Jury Prize winner “Red Road” was not included in the Edinburgh lineup. But distrib Verve Pictures prefers to preem the pic in Glasgow, where it’s set on Oct. 25, two days before it goes wide.

Although Edinburgh has a strong rep for showcasing breakthrough work, the fest also recognizes the need to attract established talent to get the flashbulbs firing. This isn’t always easy, since the fest competes for premieres with Venice, Toronto and Telluride.

Fest patron Sean Connery will give the annual BAFTA Scotland interview on Aug. 25, and talent including Brian De Palma, Sigourney Weaver, Charlize Theron, Steven Soderbergh and Kevin Smith will participate in Q&A interview sessions.

Incoming director McGill pledges to continue to curate a fest with “lots of character,” which she adds does not mean there isn’t room for “the new breed of Hollywood blockbusters which cross intellectual boundaries, such as Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man.’ … It doesn’t have to be blonds on the red carpet or interesting movies — it can be both.”

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