The Highland lows

Brits strive to combine art, marketability

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Brit pics came away with a mixed report card at the 54th Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival, which closed Sunday. A host of world and local preems, plus a full schedule of industry confabs, left the impression that the Brits still lack the ability to combine art and commerce, even as they haven’t lost their appetite for whining and self-flagellation.

Under current program topper Lizzie Francke, a former critic, the EIFF has become the annual litmus test of the local industry, with the campus-flavored fest providing a relaxed venue for cinematic scrutiny.

Overall, this year’s Focus on British Cinema was less revelatory than the previous two editions, with most interest centering on legit director Stephen Daldry’s crowd-pleasing debut, “Billy Elliot” (previously unveiled at Cannes as “Dancer”), and first-timer Jamie Thraves’ ambling relationship comedy “The Low Down” (preemed a fortnight earlier at Locarno).

“Billy” won the fest’s audience award, and “Low Down” lead thesp Aidan Gillen won the British performance award for best newcomer.

Likable, not marketable

The 13-title lineup featured several likable, but not highly marketable, pics — strongly regional dramedies rooted in everyday life, like John Hay’s soccer pic “There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble,” Paul Pawlikowski’s Russian immigrant drama “Last Resort” (awarded the Michael Powell award for best new British feature), Simon Cellan Jones’ “Some Voices” and Mark Herman’s soccer-fan comedy “Purely Belter” (both from Cannes).

Two of the most impressive debuts on the lowbudget scale were shot on DV (a rapidly developing format for features), Elliot Hegarty’s well-scripted comedy centered on a London bar, “County Kilburn,” and Glaswegian May Miles Thomas’ B&W mother-son drama, “One Life Stand,” which revealed very promising film-makers beneath their no-budget trappings.

Francke acknowledges that British cinema is going through “a period of pain inherent to any growth phase,” but reckons her lineup of the best available was a reminder of “what filmmakers here can do well with lowbudget expectations.” Her objective, she told Daily Variety, has always been “to provide an annual snapshot” and “keep the debate alive.”

Buyers in general weren’t bowled over by the commercial smarts of the new Brit crop. “There’s always a strong demand out there for English-language titles, so we have to keep seeing them,” one international scout told Daily Variety. “But there’s much more skepticism nowadays over the whole British renaissance thing.”

Lack of ‘provocation’

Francke herself expresses disappointment at the lack of any real “provocation” in current British cinema. “I don’t see movies being made here like, say, Catherine Breillat’s ‘Romance’ or Karyn Kusama’s ‘Girlfight,’ or weird and wonderful movies like the Japanese ‘Audition’ and ‘The Ring.’ There’s a lack of any sense of risk-taking.”

Last three titles were all in the fest’s other sections, which had a cohesive adventurous flavor across a wide range of genres that wasn’t reflected in the Brit lineup. Almost to make a point, the festival opened and closed with two non-English productions, Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark” and Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love.”

The fest’s new director’s award went to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Love’s a Bitch,” with special mentions going to the Iranian “A Time for Drunken Horses,” Argentinean “Crane World,” and David Gordon Green’s “George Washington.”

Lack of risk-taking was also the underlying theme at one key industry confab, provocatively titled “The State of the British Film Industry: A Nation Mourns.” But moaning, rather than mourning, was more the prevailing mood, with participants re-rehearsing the usual excuses about lack of “structures” (i.e., public money and government invectives) and good scripts (plus good script doctors).

Glancing westward

There was also much talk about how much better Hollywood models are (especially in marketing), and a general tone of looking for scapegoats.

Only two audience participants, producer Scott Meek and Studio Canal’s Dominique Green, tried to divert the chorus of complaining toward more fruitful areas of discussion — the Internet future and European production models.

A similarly high-profile confab with John Woodward, chief exec of the new Film Council industry super org, was more tentative than productive, given that its personnel had only just been appointed.

Woodward did, however, stress that the Council’s intention, with the limited public funds at its disposal, was not to “stamp out” the many small companies that make up the island’s cottage industry, but rather to help develop a “sustainable British film industry.” This was more, he said, about making some of the smaller guys grow bigger and more professional.

More Film

  • '2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live

    Film Review: ‘2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action’

    The Academy skewed dark in its choice of live-action shorts this year, selecting four films to slit your wrists by — each one featuring child endangerment in a different form — and a fifth, about a diabetic on her death bed, that finds a glimmer of uplift at the other end of life. If that [...]

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in an Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

  • Yorgos Lanthimos

    Film News Roundup: 'The Favourite' Director Yorgos Lanthimos Boards Crime Drama

    In today’s film news roundup, Yorgos Lanthimos has set up a crime drama, “Here Lies Daniel Tate” is being adapted, and Donna Langley becomes a member of the USC film school board. DIRECTOR HIRED “The Favourite” producer-director Yorgos Lanthimos has signed on to write and direct crime drama “Pop. 1280,” an adaptation of Jim Thompson’s [...]

  • Brody Stevens Dead

    Comedian Brody Stevens Dies at 48

    Prominent Los Angeles comedian Brody Stevens died Friday in Los Angeles, Variety has confirmed. He was 48. “Brody was an inspiring voice who was a friend to many in the comedy community,” Stevens’ reps said in a statement. “He pushed creative boundaries and his passion for his work and his love of baseball were contagious. [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business

    Hollywood Agents Blast Writers Guild Over New Proposals

    The war between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents has escalated as the two sides battle over the rules on how writers are represented. The latest volley emerged Friday from Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents, who accused WGA leaders of misleading its members and asserted that the guild [...]

  • Xavier Legrand Custody

    Cesar Awards: Xavier Legrand’s ‘Custody’ Wins Best Film

    Xavier Legrand’s feature debut “Custody,” a tense portrait of a family torn by domestic violence, won best film, actress (for Lea Drucker), and original screenplay at the 44th Cesar Awards, which took place at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The awards are France’s highest film honors. “Custody,” which marks Legrand’s follow up to his Oscar-nominated [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Late Show With Stephen Colbert' Win Publicity Campaign Awards

    Hollywood publicists have selected “Crazy Rich Asians” as the top movie publicity campaign for 2018 and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” as the best television campaign. Warner Bros.’ “Crazy Rich Asians” topped the campaigns for Disney’s “Black Panther,” Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place,” Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” and Universal’s “Halloween” for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content