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B.O. Highland fling

Edinburgh Fest pulls in celebs, ups auds

EDINBURGH, Scotland — In town for an onstage career interview and screening of “The Pledge,” Sean Penn brought a touch of glitz to the final days of the 55th Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival, which closed Sunday with receipts up 20%, making for a B.O. record.

Though the fest was weaker than usual on the new British cinema side, its international selection scooped up the best of Cannes and other events, as well as delivering a good lineup of visiting names. Latter included veteran director-d.p. Haskell Wexler; thesps Tim Roth, Kate Winslet, Saffron Burrows and Jacqueline Bisset; helmers Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Michael Apted, Terry Zwigoff and duo D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus; and composer Angelo Badalamenti.

Departing director Lizzie Francke bade her farewells with a rare onstage interview with Emma Thompson and — underlining the festival’s traditionally indie spirit — a free screening of the actress’s latest pic, cancer drama “Wit,” directed by Mike Nichols.

Clear winner of the audience award was Jeunet’s Gallic blockbuster “Amelie From Montmartre,” which opened the fest and led the polls from the outset. In second and third place were Bosnian black comedy “No Man’s Land” and U.S. transsexual rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Highest placed British picture was “Enigma.”

Lacking new talent

During her five years at the programming helm, former critic Francke has consolidated Edinburgh into the premiere showcase for new British cinema, though this year’s selection was reckoned below par in terms of discovering exciting new talent.

Commercially oriented fare like “Lucky Break” and romantic comedy “Crush” were received solidly enough. But apart from U.K.-financed “The Warrior,” an existential Hindi Western set in the Himalayas by first-time writer-director Asif Kapadia, there was a shortage in the non-TV work of really fresh creative voices that also spoke to auds.

Winner of the Michael Powell Award for best British feature was Kenny Glenaan’s DV-shot low budgeter “Gas Attack,” about biological terrorism in Glasgow. Fest’s new directors award was shared by two North American pictures, Michael Cuesta’s pedophilia drama “L.I.E.” and Canadian Inuit epic “Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner.”

Francke’s successor is Shane Danielsen, a 33-year-old Australian film journalist who curated Edinburgh’s Max Ophuls retro last year and a recent panorama of French cinema in Sydney.

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