Fest includes 19 world premieres

EDINBURGH — Chris Fujiwara, the new artistic director of the Edinburgh Film Festival, has unveiled an artistically ambitious program of 121 new features from 52 countries, including 19 world premieres, for the fest’s 66th edition.

With a budget up 50% to £1.5 million ($2.4 million), including a fresh injection of £250,000 ($400,000) from the British Film Institute, the venerable fest is looking to bounce back from its dysfunctional nadir in 2011, when financial cutbacks and artistic misdirection led to what many commentators damned as the worst edition in its history.

Fujiwara’s debut lineup stakes out a fresh identity for Edinburgh as a hardcore arthouse festival of discovery for serious cinephiles, with a heavy Asian influence reflecting Fujiwara’s own roots in the Far East.

Less than a quarter of the lineup already has U.K. distribution, and relatively few of the titles are already familiar from previous major festivals such as Sundance, Berlin or Cannes.

“Nobody wants to do a tired festival, a festival that we’ve seen before,” Fujiwara said. “I wanted not just to rely on the established guide posts. But I’ve chosen films not just for their newness and unfamiliarity, but also for their artistic quality. I chose the best films I could find, whether they are known or not well known. In introducing these films, we want to help them find a wider audience.”

As already announced, the fest opens June 20 with William Friedkin’s controversial “Killer Joe,” and closes on a contrasting note with the European premiere of Disney/Pixar’s “Brave.”

World premieres include three American pics — Richard Ledes’ comedy “Fred,” starring Elliott Gould; Nathan Silver’s no-budget doc-style drama “Exit Elena,” and Benjamin Pascoe’s roller-derby doc “Leave it on the Track.”

The fest has restored the Michael Powell award for best British film, after controversially axing the prize last year. With docs eligible for the first time, the Brit contenders include seven world premieres, among them Luis Prieto’s “Pusher,” Peter Strickland’s “Berberian Sound Studio,” Penny Woolcock’s “One Mile Away” amd “Day of Flowers” by John Roberts. The lineup also includes James Marsh’s “Shadow Dancer” and Bart Layton’s “The Imposter,” which premiered at Sundance.

The fest has also restored its international feature competition. Contenders include David Zellner’s “Kid-Thing,” “Tabu” by Miguel Gomes” and the world premiere of Mao Mao’s Chinese drama “Here, Then.”

The strong Asian presence across the fest’s many sections also includes international premieres of Jang Kun-Jae’s “Sleepless Night,” European premieres of Lu Sheng’s “Here, There” and Yang Jung-ho’s “Mirage,” and the U.K. premiere of Yeon Sang-ho’s Cannes entry “The King of Pigs.”

There are spotlights on the work of Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto, with screenings of his cult cyberpunk pics “Tetsuo” and “Tetsuo 2″ along with his latest project “Kokoto”; and on Chinese doc master Wang Bing, who will be coming to the U.K. for the first time.

A section devoted to the Philippine New Wave examines the creativity of young independent Filipino filmmakers, including world premieres of Emerson Reyes’ “MNL 143″ and “Philippine New Wave: This is Not a Film Movement” by Khavn De La Cruz.

“I believe Asia, and East Asia in particular, is probably the most exciting filmmaking region now,” Fujiwara commented.

Fujiwara picks out the 1995 pic “Typhoon Club” from his retrospective of Japanese auteur Shinji Somai as his personal highlight of the entire program.

Scottish cinema is less prominent than in recent years, but there are world premieres of Scott Graham’s “Shell” and “What Is This Film Called Love?,” a personal doc by Edinburgh-based cineaste Mark Cousins.

Other notable titles in the program include the European premiere of Bobcat Goldthwait’s “God Bless America,” Laurent Cantet’s Cannes competition entry “7 Days in Havana,” and a special screening of Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda’s “Dr Seuss’ The Lorax.”

This year’s budget increase, thanks partly to the fresh BFI coin, has allowed the fest to more than double the size of its program, after slashing it back to around 50 pics last year. However, the budget remains substantially below the $3.2 million figure in 2010, when the fest screened around 100 films.

Acting CEO Ken Hay, who took over last fall with a brief to set the fest back on course, is hoping that if this year’s bold program re-establishes its artistic credibility, then this will persuade its public and industry stakeholders to increase their support for the event going forward.

“I believe it’s critically important for Scotland, the U.K. and the world that the (festival) survives, but it will only do so if people (in the industry) support it,” Hay said.

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