Focus on events at Edinburgh International Film Festival

Focus on events at Edinburgh International Film Festival

Paul McGuigan

The workshops, discussion groups and free events radicalised EIFF 2011

Writer/director and editor Jonathan Ley considers the success of workshops, discussion groups and free events at the radicalised 2011 Edinburgh International Film Festival

One of the departures the revamped Edinburgh International Film Festival took this year, in moving away from the glitz and glamour of red carpet premieres and must-see movies, was an increased emphasis on film-related events. By moving the festival’s delegate centre from the swish yet frosty Point Hotel to the larger and rather more homely Teviot House, EIFF created a festival hub capable of accommodating its broad programme of filmmaker talks, industry debates, panel discussions and networking events. Of course, past festivals have always included behind-the-scenes events aimed at festival delegates, those premium pass holders who constitute the festival’s bread and butter, but this year the events were more varied and less exclusive. For the first time, many were open to the public with a significant number were free of charge. So exhaustive were the topics covered in fact that some credence could be given to festival director James Mullighan’s assertion, made in his catalogue introduction, that the events programme constituted, in effect, a ‘pop-up film school’.

One free event in particular, Short Sighted!, presented by BAFTA and Shooting People, was exactly the sort of crash course in short filmmaking, financing and distribution I would have loved to have attended as a starry-eyed teenage filmmaker. Indeed, judging from the range of industry partners represented in the events programme, the value Mullighan, previously the well-connected head honcho at indie film institution Shooting People, brought to his post is clear. Another team-up, with Dazed and Confused magazine, saw world-renowned photographer Rankin launch his new, and refreshingly bureaucracy-free, short filmmaking initiative Colabor8te. In the current economic climate, when there is practically no public money on offer to fund short filmmaking, and at a time when the city is supposedly bustling with aspirant filmmakers, the fact that Rankin’s launch event was so poorly attended was perplexing and perhaps points to the wider problem of how the events were promoted.

Alongside the seeming near-impossibility of getting any kind of film made at present - an oft-repeated claim - the scarcity of short film-funding was one of the buzz topics of the events programme. Indeed, if the festival’s film line-up didn’t represent an accurate reflection of the current state and quality of modern cinema, it did at times seem possible to gauge the temperature of the local and national film industries through the events programme. With traditional funding streams drying up, events geared towards new methods of film financing, including crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, drew large audiences.

Charlie Casanova director Terry McMahon put in an entertaining and expletive-strewn panel appearance alongside documentary filmmaker Jeanie Finlay. McMahon issued an appeal on Facebook for volunteers to help make his film and the resultant feature, made for a reported cash budget of 1000 Euros and a huge amount of in-kind support, has enjoyed significant festival exposure. Finlay, on the other hand, ran an appeal for financial support on dedicated crowdfunding site IndieGoGo and managed to raise £10,000 for her documentary feature Sound It Out, about the last remaining record shop in Teeside. If the goal was to get a feature made and seen at festivals by any means necessary then both filmmakers succeeded admirably but many audience members questioned whether this truly represents a viable and sustainable route for new filmmakers.

Much debate also surrounded the state of the industry new filmmakers would graduate into, with a lack of commercial ambition seen as a crucial weakness. At the ‘Directors Forum’, a wonderfully crotchety double act of Gillies MacKinnon (Small Faces) and Paul McGuigan (Gangster No 1) emerged, and there was much cathartic finger-pointing at Creative Scotland, the government body responsible for nurturing filmmaking in Scotland, yet content to play its cards very close to its chest for the time being.

Despite the doom-mongering though, a note of cautious optimism prevailed. MacKinnon found it hard to pinpoint exactly what new form cinema would assume but felt certain that a seismic shift, in how films are made and seen, was imminent.

New methods of distribution were key to this line of debate and were focused on in-depth. Jamie King, founder of VODO, an online distribution platform which actively markets to film ‘pirates’ and uses peer-to-peer file-sharing to distribute its films for free, was a welcome and impish presence on many a panel discussion. Bearing a striking resemblance to The Mighty Boosh’s Matt Berry, it was both amusing and invigorating to see representatives of the more-established sales and exhibition routes openly bridling at the implications of King’s model.

Not all the events were entirely successful of course. One panel discussion, between screenwriters Annie Griffin and Sergio Casci, devolved into a bizarrely protracted debate on whether or not people like reading subtitles (conclusion: some do, some don’t). Elsewhere, a snappy premise for an event didn’t translate into meaningful content. After opening in stunning fashion with a string quartet playing on-stage to unexpectedly moving scenes of zombie carnage, the Dead Island Trailer event had nowhere else to go for it’s remaining 55 minute duration. Likewise, the Domino Records ‘Cut & Paste’ event promised much but after 90 minutes of stilted discussion, the message I took away was that if you have some money for music in your budget you can licence some songs for your soundtrack. Hardly revelatory stuff.

One of the most significant developments in the festival’s events strategy though was also one of the least-remarked upon. 2011 saw EIFF host an inaugural 2-day Talent Lab and Composers MiniLab for new and emergent filmmakers. Very much in the model of the Berlin Talent Campus, this new initiative saw around 40 filmmakers gather for a series of workshops, tailored one-to-one dialogues with industry professionals, networking events and pitching sessions. I was fortunate enough to participate in the programme and can wholeheartedly endorse the invaluable experience it afforded. If the festival is to continue in an events-oriented direction then it is to be hoped that schemes such as the Talent Lab are maintained and expanded upon. After all, they may just provide the new identity the festival is currently searching for.

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