Edinburgh fest moves dates

2008 edition will move to June

In a film fest landscape where size seems increasingly to matter, the Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival, which runs Aug. 15-26, remains small, frisky and proud of it.

“The number of films we show is perfect,” says new artistic director Hannah McGill. “For what we want to do, our size is optimum, as I want to maintain quality control. I’d prefer to grow the festival in other areas, like special events and interviews.”

Indeed, the fest is switching its dates to June come 2008. The change is a bold attempt to boost the profile of the EIFF and give it room to grow, by separating it from the larger Edinburgh Festival, the world’s biggest arts shindig, which occupies the Scottish capital throughout August.

It will also remove the EIFF from the shadows of the big fall festivals, such as Venice and Toronto.

“June will give us breathing space to expand and create our own distinct identity,” says McGill. “In the less-crowded context of our new Junes dates, we will be better placed to attract the maximum status and publicity for the films we show.”

Next year’s event will run June 18-29.

The Edinburgh Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival put a huge demand on the city’s facilities. Also, by switching to June, film fest organizers hopes to attract a stronger industry presence.

Any date change creates new challenges, however. Edinburgh has always picked up movies from Cannes in May, but with only a month between the two events, that will become virtually impossible.

Some distribs argue that it might be more difficult to persuade talent and media to make the trip to Edinburgh in June without the rest of the arts fest to tempt them.

“Any move has not been agreed without a long consideration of the success we have enjoyed as being an integral part of the August group. But we have to look to the longer term, and now is the right time,” says managing director Ginnie Atkinson.

The 61-year-old EIFF is the world’s longest continually running fest — fellow vets Venice and Cannes both had years when they didn’t take place.

Founded in 1947, initially as a docu event, it first attracted international attention as a champion of alternative U.S. cinema — with pics from Roger Corman, Sam Fuller and the like — while subsequent years focused on other emerging waves like New German and Japanese Cinema.

“We’ve tried to maintain that continuity,” Atkinson notes, “as well as a willingness to reinvent (the fest).”

In that respect, the EIFF still has a campus-style, long-haired vibe that exactly mirrors the scruffy, hard-partying city.

Aside from its British Galas section, which includes around eight world preems every year, most of the lineup’s offerings aren’t first showings. But it’s the whole package that counts.

“We have a reputation for seeking out and discovering new, quirky, individual talent,” says Atkinson, who’s been associated with the fest for much of her working life and assumed her post 12 years ago. “We’re small enough that that kind of movie has a place. And unlike at the larger festivals, filmmakers can actually get together and meet at an informal level.”

Atkinson has presided over the fest’s biggest reinvention of the past decade or so, as a fall showcase for new British filmmaking, working alongside young programmers Mark Cousins, Lizzie Francke, Shane Danielsen and now McGill. (The new Brit pics compete for the Michael Powell Award, whose jury this year includes Sundance topper Geoff Gilmore.)

“Mark was a passionate communicator with the outside world, a real media darling, and brought the festival a lot of credibility and attention. Lizzie convinced distribs, especially down in London, that Edinburgh would look after their films, in a small but perfectly formed environment, as well as involving more U.S. indies. Shane brought a unique curatorial rigor and encyclopedic knowledge of film to the job.”

Though only in her first year, McGill, who like previous programmers had a prior association with the fest, says she’s happy with her initial frame.

“I didn’t plan it in any strategic way, but I had a full year to put the program together, and it certainly reflects my personal tastes. It covers a lot of territories and maybe has more lighter stuff than previous years.”

Money has always been a problem for the fest, which now operates on a budget of some £1.3 million ($2.6 million), roughly 30% public coin, 30% private and the rest from ticket sales and other sources.

“In 2004, it became clear we couldn’t continue with our current funding structure — we told people we had to compete on a wider stage,” Atkinson says. “So, for the past four years, we’ve been involved in a campaign about public-private funding and by next year I think we’ll have succeeded, via support from the U.K. Film Council.

“This year, Scottish Screen has substantially increased its grant. And the fest is now part of the new umbrella organization, Festivals Edinburgh, which groups 12 different events in the city. I’m very optimistic now about the future.”

(Adam Dawtrey contributed to this report.)

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