In 2008, the Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival made the bold move from August, during the city’s world-famous arts jamboree, to splendid isolation in late June. It secured three years of funding from the U.K. Film Council to help raise its profile and relaunch itself as a “festival of discovery.”
This is the last of those three years. Fest director Hannah McGill declares herself pleased with progress, even if it means less red carpet glamour and big-name filmmakers. But she admits the future is opaque.
“A discovery festival will be about smaller films, so there are probably not as many super-familiar names in our program, but our audience looks to break new ground with us,” she says. “There’s a lot of documentaries, cultier films and British stuff, which is as I want it.”
Discovery comes in many forms. “Easier With Practice,” which won last year’s inaugural award for best new international feature, never got picked up for U.K. distribution. But director Kyle Patrick Alvarez did get a British agent from his exposure at the festival, won an Indie Spirit Award and is now working on his next film. “I count that as a success,” McGill says.
But unless alternative funding emerges to replace the UKFC coin next year, the fest faces a challenge to maintain its momentum.
“The intention of the UKFC money was to raise our profile and put us in a position to attract more corporate sponsorship,” McGill explains. “But then came the global financial crisis. We’re doing reasonably well with new sponsors this year, but these are tough times, and this is not the environment we thought we’d be in at the end of this funding.”
The UKFC itself is facing sharp cutbacks, and one of the EIFF’s other core funders, Scottish Screen, is being merged into a new body, Creative Scotland, which has yet to determine its relationship with the festival. The fest’s longstanding managing director, Ginnie Atkinson, also stepped down during the past year and has yet to be replaced, so much remains unclear about the EIFF’s future.
“Every year seems to be a transitional year,” McGill sighs. “So much funding for film festivals comes with caveats, whether it’s public money or sponsorship. What none of us ever have is stable funding for the core project of showing films to audiences and bringing in filmmakers.”