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Edinburgh Film Festival Debates Art and Commerce

On Sept. 18, the people of Scotland vote to decide whether it should become an independent country. Where would a “yes” vote leave its film industry, and its leading movie event, the Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival?

The festival will address the first point as part of its inaugural Scottish Film Summit, which takes place on the fest’s opening day, June 18.
Ken Hay, Edinburgh festival CEO, says the summit takes place within the context of a wider debate about “how a nation handles film and how film is not just an artform, it is an economic enterprise.”

The summit, which will bring together professionals from across the entertainment business, will “debate the kind of future that the industry wants to build rather than the industry that the public sector wants to impose,” he says.

At the end of the summit, a series of conclusions will be reached, and they will be published on the following day as “a statement of intent from the Scottish industry, in all its richness and diversity, about what we aspire to,” says Hay, who was formerly the chief exec of Scottish Screen, a body that guided the work of the local film and TV biz.

A vote for independence won’t necessarily change the festival itself, although it may have an impact on its relationship with the local film industry.

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“If Scotland becomes independent and the Scottish film industry can really take off as something independent of the British film industry then we would want to be part of that process,” says Chris Fujiwara, the festival’s artistic director.

Hay and Fujiwara promise that the purpose of the festival itself will remain the same, regardless of any political changes.

“Edinburgh as a destination for film in June would remain whether there was a border crossing or not,” Hay says. “As with other international festivals, people happily go there because they know a certain number of things are going to be happening, the kinds of people who’ll be there, and the connections they’ll make.”

The universal nature of cinema and its ability to spark debate about a wide range of issues helps maintain the festival’s global perspective.
“Film as an artform that transcends boundaries is a really good way of allowing us to have debates that are much bigger than just around the film itself,” Hay says.

The U.K. films that are in the festival — which rep less than 15% of the total — are there on merit within an international context. “They are there not because they are British but because they make sense within that broader landscape,” Hay says. Nine of the U.K. films compete for the Michael Powell Award for best British film, including the opening night pic, Gerard Johnson’s crime thriller “Hyena.”

Fujiwara says that among the fest’s highlights are films like Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer,” Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome to New York” and David Gordon Green’s “Joe.” He says the documentaries are also very strong, as well as the sidebars on cinema in Germany and Iran.

He identifies a common theme within many of the films that have been selected.

“One thing that I perceive is a sense of discontent with the global socio-economic arrangement — a feeling of urgency about putting more power and more freedom of expression at the service of people who are disenfranchised by the global system,” he says.

“The world seems to be in a state of transition, in a state where people are calling out for power, for freedom, and are being denied that, and are facing obstacles, and their call is coming through cinema.”

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