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FILM FESTIVALS OF THE WORLD #11: Edinburgh Film Festival

by Niklas Vestberg

Edinburgh in August. You gotta love it. Even the people who hate it, love it. They just rent out their house/flat/garage/backyard for ridiculous amounts of money and leave the whole beautiful mess behind. With so much going on at the same time, there really is no way you can avoid it. In August you have the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with 100s of theatre productions, concerts and comedy shows running each day throughout the whole month. Thereís a book festival, television festival, jazz festival and even an erotica festival. Wherever you go, the streets are crowded with musicians, street theatre productions, PR people. Itís exciting, but you can also understand why so many of the locals decide to leave. It can get a bit overbearing at times, especially when youíre given flyers to 50 different musical versions of Macbeth in the space of 10 minutes, and all you really want is to get across the road to buy a sandwich.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival, now in its 58th year, is all about the love of films. All types of films. Independent films mixed with mainstream films, big-budget blockbusters playing in the same theatres as films with lunch money budgets, films from countries you didnít know existed, films so bad theyíre good and every now and then films with no redeeming features whatsoever.


Where it be at: Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
When it be at: Two last weeks of August usually (this year itís running between 18th-29th August)

How expensive it be:

Network Pass: £80
If youíre not at all interested in the films and would much rather sit in the delegate centre for eleven days and wait for your favourite celebrity to come in, then this might just be the pass for you. The Network Pass gives you access to the delegate centre, as well as entry to industry events, such as lectures, pitching sessions etc.

Industry Pass: £100 - £170 depending on how many days you want it for Ė This gives you access to the Delegate Centre, industry screenings, events as well as the videoteque (A room where you can watch video/DVD copies of most of the programmed titles when it suits you)

Individual tickets: In general, individual tickets are £7.95 (£5.20 Ė concession price for students, pensioners, unemployed, under-16s etc), with some short film sessions costing less and the opening and closing films a little bit more. There is also an advanced booking scheme, where if you buy several tickets in advance you get some free. The options are:

Buy 3 tickets Ė get one more Ĺ price.
Buy 6 tickets Ė get one more free.
Buy 10 tickets Ė get two more free

There are also other discounts available for UGC Unlimited cardholders etc.

Number of films screened: 100+ feature films and 200+ short films.

Value for money: At £7.95, the tickets donít come cheap, but with a generally very high standard of films, youíre unlikely to be disappointed. And the atmosphere is always great, even during the ďbadĒ films. Many of the films also include introductions and post-screening Q&Aís with the filmmakers and/or main cast. Sometimes thereís even a short film before the main feature, which is always fun. Unfortunately, the shorts are usually not that well publicised. So, when the obscure opening credits from some film school in Uganda comes up before your screening of the latest hip indie-hit, half the theatre usually panics. They think theyíre in the wrong place, so they stand up blocking the view for us less neurotic people, look hopelessly lost and wait for reassuring words from the festival staff.

What you'll see: Whatever weird stuff youíre into, chances are high youíll find them here. Thereís usually something for everyoneís taste. Shane Danielson, now in his third year as the festivalís artistic director, has again put together an as diverse mix of films as humanly imaginable. He may not agree with me on some of my favourite films (Maybe Iíll manage to convince him of the greatness of Gummo this year), but I gotta hand it to the man, he always manages to pick films that are met with a huge emotional response from the audience. So, thereís something for everyone. Iíve seen everything from Russian black and white films shot entirely in soft focus, to explicit sex and violence, gritty social realism and then Planet of the Apes (yes, the re-make unfortunately).

Celebrity-spotting: Quite a few big names manage to turn up at the festival. In the three years Iíve been going, famous faces have included Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, Terrence Stamp, Heather Graham, Christopher Nolan, Angelo Badalamenti.

Whatís really great about this festival though, is the effort the organisers put in to invite the less famous people, the filmmakers and the stars of the smaller films. Iíve seen great introductions and after film Q&Aís with filmmakers such as Henry Bean, Gaspar Noe and Stacy Peralta. This year Iím especially looking forward to seeing Brad Anderson, Jem Cohen and my teenage idol, porn star Rocco ďThe Italian StallionĒ Siffredi.

Accommodation: Unfortunately, if you didnít book your hotel last year, youíre pretty much screwed. With so many different festivals running simultaneously, itís virtually impossible to turn up in Edinburgh in August hoping to find a bed (but then again, if you got some serious cash, then everything can be bought). Best bet is probably to visit one of the cityís many clubs, befriend some drunken students/tourists in the early morning and invite yourself back to theirs. In past years, I have also found Edinburgh park benches reasonably comfortable, although this option should be seen as a last resort.

Transport: Most of the cinemas are within walking distance. The three main venues, hosting 95% of all screenings are all within ten minutes of each other. Thereís the occasional screening/even at other venues. These take a bit longer to get to, but itís a beautiful city so a little walking is not gonna hurt you. If you get tired of Edinburgh, then there are also some screenings in Glasgow, which is 45 minutes away on the train.

Parties: There are a lot of parties. Many of the British premieres have release parties, there are magazine parties, thereís the official launch and closing parties, The BBC have their annual Tartan Shorts party and thereís the Mirrorball Party. Tickets for these events donít grow on trees however and you will have to work hard for them or get to know the right people. You probably need access to the delegate centre though, as this is where most of the networking and mingling takes place.

Best / Worst venues: There are no bad venues in Edinburgh. But, as always, they have all have good and bad points.

The Filmhouse: The main festival venue, this is where the main information desk, the main box office and also the press office are all located. Itís at a great location and has a great atmosphere, especially in the bar where you can buy reasonably priced food and drinks. The place only has one minus point Ė the legroom is not great.

The Cameo: A lovely old theatre. It has recently been refurbished, so I donít really know what itíll be like this year. It used to be great, though. Amazing leg room and a small cosy bar. The only vaguely annoying thing about this place is that if youíre really short, you might have problems seeing the screen, since the floor is pretty much level.

The UGC: This is really just another soul-less monster multiplex, but during the festival it manages to retain the great atmosphere of the other venues reasonably well.

Places to hang out:

There are loads of nice little bars all over the place. Some of my favorites include:

OPIUM: One of my personal favourites, itís a good place if you like alternative music and would like to get away from the main festival crowds. Insanely cheap drink offers (On Sundays, all drinks are £1. Yes, thatís right - ALL DRINKS).

ULURU: A nice bar just a couple of minutes from The Filmhouse. With a good jukebox, this is a nice place to relax between films.

THE BRASS MONKEY: If you donít get enough of films during the festival, you can always go here in between screenings. This bar features a cinema room, where you can request films from a big selection of DVDís. The floor in the cinema room is one giant mattress, so youíll have to take your shoes off. Unfortunately, during the festival season this place is often full of tourist, who seems to request nothing but Braveheart and Trainspotting.

Thereís not much point in recommending any particular restaurants. There are places to eat everywhere, and Iíve never had any really bad experiences. Mammaís Pizza Place is a personal favourite however, as it gives you the option of ordering pizzas with toppings as diverse as cactus, chocolate, marshmallows and capers. I always stick with the pepperoni, but itís nice to know that the options for Ninja Turtle style pizzas are there.

Traps for young players:
If you have a pass, be grateful and donít act like the organisers owe you something for being there. Word spreads quickly if youíre being an asshole, and all your chances of getting party tickets, tickets to special screenings, will all be greatly diminished.

Press facilities/access: As this is the only film festival I have ever properly visited as a press delegate, I have nothing to compare it with, but I have nothing but praise for the press staff. Always happy to help, they always manage to smile, even when confronted with arrogant pricks, who think theyíre God just because they write illiterate reviews for some crappy newspaper with rapidly declining circulation (Iím not jealous, really).

If youíre serious about what youíre doing and can back it up with some proof of your talents, there shouldnít be a problem getting accredited. The Press Office are always keen to help student newspapers, smaller fanzines and websites.

What needs fixin': I think accommodation is the main problem for visitors. It can be extremely hard to find something that wonít kill your budget, especially at short notice. Also, connections to other cities is limited. If you live in Glasgow the last train back is at 11:30, which is not much use, especially if youíre there to party, or just to go to the late night screenings. There are late night buses, but theyíre very popular and once theyíre full, youíre not getting on.

The Hollywood Bitchslap final grade for EIFF: A- (speaking from past experience). Nothing is really bad about this festival. Maybe the programme can be a bit too enthusiastic about films that really arenít that great, but then again, itís all subjective and whatís shit in one manís eyes is gold in anotherís. A great festival in a great city Ė Well worth a visit.

The Hollywood Bitchslap final grade for EIFF 2004: I will let you know.....

For more information on EIFF, jump to The EIFF Website

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originally posted: 08/12/04 02:25:26
last updated: 11/04/04 11:27:41
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