Edinburgh Film Festival 2005

Jamie Garwood


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk

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While Cambridge has definitely upset Edinburgh in its pursuit of new independent features and giving European premieres to new films ahead of its Scottish counterpart, Edinburgh certainly made up for any downscale in terms of genuine quality and surprises.  Instead of offering new and challenging works from renowned auteurs – although the work of Schrader and Toback was acknowledged – it was the work of new British and American directors which held the greatest attention. 

It was quite fitting that in the year of the Michael Powell retrospective that the Michael Powell award for Best British Film was the most competitive for some time.  From the opening gala film and directorial debut of Richard E. Grant Wah-Wah to the controversy courting The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael (Thomas Clay) and the first British Dogme film Gypo (Jan Dunn) to the Brian Jones biopic, Stoned (Stephen Woolley).  The most pleasing aspect of these and the other eight films nominated was that a lot of the films were the professional full length debuts of the directors and that four of the nominees were female, a pleasing third of the twelve and a healthy ratio to answer all the critics.  The eventual winner was Tsotsi (Gavin Hood) the tale of a young gangster in South Africa who unknowingly kidnaps a baby and must become a surrogate father while refocusing his life, shot like City of God the film was vibrant and exciting for British eyes.

Elsewhere the whole festival seemed to be overshadowed by the presence of Joss Whedon’s debut film, Serenity.  While Whedon is well known due to his invention of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this was his first stab at feature film helming and the writer-director could not have asked for a better critical response.  All reviews in the mainstream media and local rags gave the film a resounding five stars and at his masterclass he was greeted with a standing ovation.  The film based on the television show which was his sophomore piece after Buffy, ‘Firefly’ which was unfortunately cancelled after only 14 shows. The film is a continuation of the series but fresh enough so new viewers do not have to have prior knowledge, it is an exciting blend of science-fiction, western, action and rounded characters who have more depth than most Hollywood blockbusters.  It was ironic that this was previewed just two weeks after The Island, the highly expectant but weak Michael Bay film went on general release and just one week after Stealth (Fast and Furious in the air) was also released.  Serenity marks a progression for a writer who has been around for some time but taking all the plaudits in a film with a talented unknown cast in a film that surprises, thrills and excites all the viewers.  Wait for it with patience.

The festival had some great films but some odd ones as well, Astronauts the debut from Santi Anodeo, was a mixed bag about a recovering junkie who has to resist temptation and find his way back into life through a ten-step plan and a sixteen year old girl who provides him his support.  Nancho Novo in the lead is the type of character you would love to hate but has a real heart to him, but the end of the film is too sudden and leaves you sitting there sullen just like Daniel, Novo’s character.

Thumbsucker, the debut feature from music video promo director Mike Mills was a real find here, although it was heralded at both Sundance and Berlin.  It tells the story of Justin who at seventeen still sucks his thumb and through some hypnosis (from dentist Keanu Reeves – brilliant) and some prescribed Ritalin for ADD he is reborn and to his detriment almost ruins his life, but just like him his parents are having to readjust to life around them changing.  While closer to Donnie Darko in tone, humour and critique of the general prescription of pharmaceutical drugs, the film is about the quiet behind doors life of American surburbia which is shot beautifully here through anamorphic lenses.

Police Beat is a very rare black American independent film as the black American is an immigrant and it uses the clever device of him talking in his second language of English while in dialogue, but the internal monologue of the character Z, a lack of a name marginalises him further, is in his native tongue Wolof.  A fine leading performance enlightens this brave independent production by making the black African American immigrant have an internal voice that suffers from the same neuroses a white voice might also have.

Junebug was my personal favourite of the films I saw.  Another debut by Phil Morrison, the film is primarily about communication it starts off with men hollering a form of traditional North Carolina communication where the film is set.  The fine ensemble cast cleverly shows how people interact through lack of verbal contact, through food, art and how the opposition of the North and South United States still exist today.  At the end we have no communication between the couple a vital stumbling block for them.

All in all this festival was one of quality supported by its quantity giving us the best of Sundance and Berlin, and that we could not see at Cambridge.  Many were questioning if Edinburgh still held some sway in British film circles, but the longest running film festival in the world still has legs.

All reviews of these films will appear in full over the coming weeks.
 
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