For the fifth year in a row, I made my way to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, armed with my press pass and a hunger to see what this year’s crop of films had to offer. And, all in all, it was a strong year. There were many highlights, including Inside Out, which restored the festivals long-standing relationship with Pixar, and 45 Years, writer-director Andrew Haigh’s follow-up to Weekend.
The festival kicked off with The Legend of Barney Thomson, an arguably more audience-friendly choice of opener than last year’s Hyena. More of a miss than a hit for me, it nonetheless charmed audiences and brought the stars to the capital. It closed in subdued fashion with Iona. Karen Guthrie’s low-key familial documentary The Closer We Get surprised me with its tenderness and emotional pull, while I had much fun while watching The Overnight and Beyond the Lights, which had been unceremoniously dumped on DVD in the UK.
The winner of the Audience Award, Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk And Infiltrating the Mainstream, opened my eyes up to the music scene of Edinburgh in the late 1970s/early 80s, though I can’t see it having much scope beyond a slot on BBC Four. I, however, found a lot to love about The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, featuring a fantastic central performance by rising star Bel Powley, who stars as a teenager experiencing her sexual awakening and all the confusing emotions that come as a result. It’s empowering and a wonder to watch.
The Stanford Prison Experiment, on the other hand, was a difficult watch, though no less important and extremely well made. Based on the real-life study conducted by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo in 1971, the film cuts deep down in the mind and leaves a long and lingering impression. As mentioned above, Inside Out and Michael Powell Award winner 45 Years were also terrific, though I had to wait until the very last day to catch the latter. It was a last-minute decision well made.
Love & Mercy, too, an unconventional biopic of Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson upturned my expectations, became one of my favourite films of the entire festival. It’s released in a few weeks time and will likely find a big audience. And Chicken, Joe Stephenson’s feature debut, was a slow-burn, building a gut-punch of an end and showing skill in the director and his star Scott Chambers. It had a shaky start, but really impressed as the narrative unfolded.
There were many other films saw, including a few stinkers. Sleeping With Other People, which was a misfire featuring two talented comedic actors, and Scottish Mussel, one of the worst films I’ve ever seen based around mussel poaching in the highlands of Scotland, were the main two. The latter, directed by actress Talulah Riley, was almost insufferable and saw four people up sticks and leave the first press screening. I sort of wish I’d done the same, though wouldn’t have been able to have written a review had that been the case.
Mark Adams, who was appointed Artistic Director in March of this year, a mere three months before the festival opened its doors, seems like the perfect fit for revitalising Edinburgh to what it once was. Him, and his team, put together a wonderful programme that shows promise for the years to come. And with overall attendance up by 9% over last year, its highest since the date switch from August to June, Edinburgh appears to be back on the map. It’s early days yet, but it’s heartening to see one of my favourite film festivals receiving the attention it deserves once more.