EDINBURGH — The 66th Edinburgh Film Festival opened Wednesday night with William Friedkin’s provocative thriller “Killer Joe,” which dished up a feast of graphic nudity and violence for the black-tie crowd of Scottish grandees and film lovers.
It was a bold start for new artistic director Chris Fujiwara, the New York-born critic who has been given the task of breathing fresh life into the festival after last year’s badly received 65th anniversary edition.
Friedkin, his wife Sherry Lansing and the film’s star Gina Gershon attended the gala screening at Edinburgh’s 1,900-seater Festival Theater, and the after-show party in the soaring central hall of the recently revamped National Museum of Scotland.
“It’s a challenging film, and I think Chris is a very brave man to present it here at the world’s longest continually running festival,” Friedkin said.
He noted that the play by Tracy Letts on which the film is based premiered at Edinburgh’s theater fest nearly 20 years ago.
Other stars on hand included Jim Broadbent, who is chairing the jury for the Michael Powell Award for best British film, and Elliott Gould, who chairs the international jury and is also supporting the world premiere of his film “Fred,” directed by Richard Ledes.
Also attending were Scottish actors Brian Cox and Kate Dickie.
The black-tie glamor and festive atmosphere were a deliberate contrast to last year’s opening, when the ill-conceived decision to abandon the red carpet resulted in a drab and downbeat evening.
The fest’s new CEO Ken Hay, the former Scottish Screen topper who took the reins last fall on a temporary basis, admits that last year’s opening night put him off attending any further events or screenings at the fest.
That spurred his resolve that the 2012 edition should open in a properly celebratory manner.
The fest, which closes July 1 after the European premiere of “Brave,” will screen 120 films, more than double last year’s threadbare tally. There are 18 world premieres, mostly from the U.K. and the U.S. The fest’s budget has been raised 50% to £1.5 million ($2.35 million).
Early reactions to Fujiwara’s challenging program of arthouse discoveries have been positive. But he has already been hit by a run of bad luck, with key guests Robert Carlyle, Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto and Russian doc-maker Victor Kossakovsky dropping out due to personal circumstances.
That has left the roster of personal appearances looking thin, with the remaining highlights set to include a public interview with Broadbent, and a masterclass with Chinese documentary director Wang Bing.
There was also last-minute controversy when the producers of Scottish film “Shell” by debut director Scott Graham withdrew the pic, which was due to world premiere at Edinburgh, when they discovered it was not selected to compete for the Powell award.
Instead it was due to screen in the British Scenes sidebar, reserved for films with experimental themes or funding models.