Edinburgh fest opens with ‘The Guard’

Slimmed-down event accents eclectic programming

The 65th Edinburgh Film Festival made a low-key debut Wednesday with the well-received Irish black comedy “The Guard.”

Pic, which drew laughs and sustained applause, was presented by its director John Michael McDonagh. But none of the stars were in attendance, and there were many empty seats in Edinburgh’s Festival Theater.

The muted atmosphere continued at the opening night party, which was more thinly attended than in previous years.

The fest has gone through a big revamp and downsizing this year, following the end of its funding from the now defunct U.K. Film Council.

The fest has cut its new films by 40%, got rid of its prizes including the Michael Powell Award for best British film, and launched an extensive and eclectic program of experimental multimedia events, with a strong emphasis on live music, documentaries and short films.

Highlights include Reel Science, a series of events exploring biomedical science and theory through film, in partnership with Edinburgh Neuroscience and the Wellcome Trust.

One event, hosted by neuropsychologist Dr. Paul Broks, will include a first glimpse of Hugh Hudson’s new film “Rapture,” in which the “Chariots of Fire” helmer documents his wife’s recovery from a brain hemorrhage.

The fest has symbolically discarded its red carpet in a bid to break down barriers between the audience and the filmmakers. Nonetheless, it will still host several splashy screenings at its showcase Festival Theater.

These include the international premiere of Scottish helmer David McKenzie’s “Perfect Sense,” with Ewan McGregor among the cast attending; the European premiere of the Kings of Leon doc “Talihina Sky,” in the presence of the band; and the world premiere of the 3D version of “The Lion King.”

Other world premieres include David Hare’s BBC TV movie “Page 8,” starring Bill Nighy; and CinemaNX’s low-budget Brit drama “Albatross,” with rising stars Felicity Jones and Jessica Brown Findlay.

The fest has also moved to new headquarters, Edinburgh U’s Student Union in the heart of the Old Town, where the general public will be encouraged to attend a wider range of industry events than was previously possible, and to mingle with filmmakers and industry delegates.

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