Wexler speaks out at Edinburgh fest

Filmmaker takes a whack at American culture

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Bemoaning Orwellian trends in Hollywood studio production, veteran cinematographer-filmmaker Haskell Wexler made a heartfelt speech Sunday at the 55th Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival in which he railed against the “expropriation of American culture” by movies, TV, the Internet and the popular media.

In town for a screening of a brand new print of his 1969 political classic, “Medium Cool,” and a docu about its making, Wexler, still trim and feisty at 80, spoke of “a national psychology of superiority” in which characters like Tony Soprano are now looked upon as popular heroes.

This contempo mindset, Wexler said, gives such characters a popular license to be shown exacting retribution on “perceived bad guys” with any means at their disposal, from personal violence to military force. Without mentioning titles, Wexler added that war films are a particularly attractive arena for boosting this psychology; if deemed OK by the U.S. military, such pics will receive free-of-charge backing in provision of facilities and manpower.

Wexler was making the keynote speech at Variety‘s traditional Edinburgh fest industry luncheon, where he was introduced by executive editor Steven Gaydos as “one of the things America occasionally gets right, including Sam Peckinpah, John Cassavetes, John Huston and Jerry Lee Lewis.”

Among those warmly applauding Wexler were “Enigma” director Michael Apted and exec producer Victoria Pearman, whose pic had screened the previous night; composer Angelo Badalamenti (in town for a film music master class and to brush up his golf); HBO Films VP Maud Nadler; actor Brian Cox; Optimum Releasing managing director Will Clarke and Tequila Gang producer Rosa Bosch, both in for screenings of Guillermo del Toro’s popular hit, “The Devil’s Backbone”; and “Medium Cool” associate producer Steven North, son of composer Alex North.

The Variety lunch kick-started the second week of the fest, during which the U.K. industry treks to the Scottish capital to debate its present and future in a series of confabs, this year under the umbrella of producers association Pact. Fest wraps Sunday.

This year’s 20-odd sessions cover screenplay craft, opportunities for low-budget filmmaking, one-to-one surgeries with execs from the U.K.’s Film Council, and prospects for a popular British cinema.

Midway through the fest, opener “Amelie From Montmartre” was leading the Audience Award Poll, followed by transsexual rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and U.S. road comedy “Jump Tomorrow.” Brit prison comedy “Lucky Break” was neck and neck with “Ghost World” in fourth place.