Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival evolves

World premieres, more industry events set

After making an initial success of its move to June last year, the 63rd Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival has lined up more world premieres and a deeper program of industry events in an effort to take its evolution to the next stage.

But it won’t be easy to keep the momentum going in a city hit hard by the banking crisis, at a time when audiences, sponsors, industry and media alike are cinching in their belts.

Edinburgh was awarded three years of extra funding by the U.K. Film Council in 2008 to relaunch itself as a “festival of discovery.” It switched its date in a bid to assert its own identity as Europe’s answer to Sundance, separate from the giant arts festival that swamps the Scottish capital every August.

It’s vital that this year’s edition shows further progress in Edinburgh’s ambition. With the UKFC coin — about a quarter of the fest’s $2.7 million budget — running out after 2010, the organizers will need to impress potential new backers when they start to draw up their next five-year plan this summer.

The first tough target for this year’s festival is to increase its ticket sales in the teeth of a recession. The first June edition exceeded expectations by selling the same number of tickets — around 53,000 — as the last August event did in 2007. The loss of the August arts tourists who constituted much of its ticket sales was offset by a gain in the local audience.

The positive impact of last year’s relaunch is also evident in this year’s stronger program, with 23 world and 16 international premieres, up from 15 and 14, respectively, last year.

“The message that we were branding ourselves as a festival of discovery got out there,” says artistic director Hannah McGill. “The date has made a difference in our prominence. We got a great deal of coverage last year. As we hoped, there was more space in the press because of our stand-alone status, so we had a lot more happy filmmakers.”

McGill reports that many more films were offered to the festival this year through its submissions channel rather than being sought out by the programming team at festivals.

The majority of the world premieres are British, of course — Edinburgh is first and foremost a showcase for U.K. talent. But this year’s firsts also include Ethiopian hybrid drama-doc “The Athlete” and two American films: Ryan Denmark’s zombie Shakespeare mash-up “Romeo and Juliet vs. the Living Dead” and “Baraboo,” the directorial debut of David Lynch’s longtime editor and partner Mary Sweeney.

“Mary Sweeney got in touch with me directly even before her film was finished, when she was still in the lab, because she had heard about Edinburgh and thought it might be right for her,” McGill says.

The fest’s profile has been raised by a new prize for best international film, to sit alongside its long-standing award for best British movie. “Having a feature prize, which is open only to world and international premieres, has upped the standard of submissions,” McGill notes.

TIP SHEET

When: June 17-28

Where: Edinburgh, Scotland

Web: edfilmfest.org.uk

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