Up until recently my film festival experience has mostly been contained exclusively to the horror/exploitation field and when Edinburgh comes to mind it's been many happy years of indulging in the joy that is the 'Dead by Dawn' film festival. Well it's time perhaps to broaden my horizons so with an open mind it was time to dip my toes into one of the biggest film events on the global film lovers' calendar - the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
It's an unusually sunny Monday morning when I arrive in Edinburgh to check into the bed and breakfast and get ready to pick up my press pass at the festivals delegate centre. Once my pass (and now obligatory promotional bag of paraphernalia) is collected I meet up with long time friend and 'Dead by Dawn' fest director Adele Hartley to plan a timetable of film viewing for the days ahead. If you're not familiar with how these events run here's the deal…each day from 9am until early evening several cinemas in the heart of Edinburgh run back to back industry screenings, on paper what you have is literally dozens of films showing throughout the day, a timetable of everything screening and the welcome dilemma of having to decide what you want to see. The only problem with this though is that there is the potential of two or three interesting titles showing at the same time or even the thought of having to dash from one cinema to another in less than five minutes to catch a particular screening. Now of course none of this is a bad thing as any film lover will attest just being given the opportunity to catch endless free screenings of the best new movies is nothing to find much fault in, in fact it's potentially film fan nirvana…that is of course if the films deliver!
A point before we kick into the films, be warned that this time of year in Edinburgh is sheer bedlam. You see it's festival time, not just for film but for every niche of entertainment that you could possibly imagine…comedy, dance, theatre, books - everything but the kitchen sink (though I'm sure some small room has a performance by the kitchen sink here somewhere!) What this means is that you can't set foot onto the streets without being accosted by the 'next big thing' forcing a flyer into your hands or tripping over one of the thousands of wide eyed culture hungry tourists. Don't get me wrong I'm not complaining about the intensity of the whole scenario but the savvy would be well advised to know where to escape from the heaving masses (like the lovely rooftop bar we absconded to which was a haven of tranquillity far above the crowds).
But what of the films…well sadly my first foray into the International Film Festival was going to be a short one (well initially three solid days of film fun) as many other commitments were already under way, so when planning to come through to Edinburgh I was making sure that I would be there for the genre gems that I was anxious to see (along with anything else that I could squeeze in!)
Tuesday morning 9am and I'm settling into the comfy surroundings of the Cameo cinema for my first screening…"So Close". Asian action flick fans will already be familiar with director Corey Yeun's fan fave 'The Transporter' if import DVD sales from Hong Kong are anything to go by! Well this time round we get what has been labelled as the Charlie's Angels from the East?! Well, to be honest this is perhaps an unfair and lazy term based purely on the fact that our lead characters are all of the female persuasion. The film opens with all guns blazing in true over the top action style in a way that only the finest Asian filmmakers can deliver (and that their Western counterparts try so hard to mimic). The scene opens in a sprawling tower block that is home to a corrupt business Mafioso syndicate and as you can imagine each floor to the businesses kingpin leader on the top floor is heavily guarded by the stock stereotype suited gun toting hard man. Enter our slim and sassy heroine who proceeds to make her way up each level blasting and scrapping her to the top. Cue the hard kicking action fun that fans of the genre love and here it is delivered in spades with our heroine whooping all and sundry with nary a hair out of place. What adds to the effect of the onscreen mayhem is the bizarre use of the Carpenters track 'Close To You' (yes you read right) as the background soundtrack…a nice touch that will bring a sly smile to most viewers but as the film progresses will inevitably irk most. But I'm jumping ahead, back to the movie…basically the premise here is that two orphaned sisters are using high level technology (built by their late father) to fight back against the aforementioned corporate baddies, but the heroic loners are playing a dangerous game and it's only a matter of time before the baddies bite back! While it starts off in a mouth-watering mix of high action and sensory eye candy 'So Close' soon drifts into that old problem with Asian action flicks in that we've seen it all before. The thinnest of plots (that in itself is so flawed you really do have to switch your brain off) is once again padded out by blandly romantic and unconvincingly delivered emotive sub plots that will have most viewers willing for the end credits to roll. Of course there is the obligatory fight/action scenes peppered here and whilst they are lovely they do here seem to be only a device to keep viewers from dozing off during the rest of the filler material. No doubt many Asian action flick fans will come to the films defence in that they are a lot more tolerant of the wafer thin plot devices but the savvy film fan will quickly realise that this is yet another occasion when the film is no different than the hundreds of other similar films that come out of the East every year. After an encouraging opening 'So Close' swiftly dives into disappointing repetitiveness and does no good whatsoever to defend against the thought that Asian action filmmakers are great at filming action scenes and for not much more than that. Strictly for the hard-core and deeply forgiving.
Well after that I really needed some cinematic stimulation and after a brief gasp of fresh air it was time to shuffle into the larger (and more welcoming) screen one at the Cameo cinema for the screening of Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Fear X'. Now here is a film that instantly entices your attention with a mix of well-paced visual atmospherics and a plot device that urges your curiosity. As the film opens we meet a mall security guard who is skulking at home pondering a collection of clippings and photographs that he's collected and pinned all over the wall. Nothing is said and the pace moves very slowly, but not in a way that will have you weary but with the clever use of stylish cinematography and a menacing (but ambient) soundtrack so as you watch you're already wondering…who is this guy…why does he have this strange collection of images and clippings? As the film progresses we soon discover that said guard is actually (perhaps understandably) obsessed with finding the unknown assailant who murdered his wife at the mall were he works. The police don't seem to be getting anywhere fast and using his contacts is slowly sifting through hours of close circuit footage from the mall to see if he can spot something or someone that will help lead to the killers identity. 'Fear X' is very much an entertaining and chilling film, the plot very much pulls the viewer in and has you as bewildered and curious as our unfortunate lead. As the jigsaw pieces fall into place the film increases in tension with a finale that it is both unexpected and perhaps for some will leave them wanting but rather than going down the Hollywood route (which would have been so out of place) the director has welcomingly chose to maintain the films downbeat atmosphere. If looking for similarities then you wont go far wrong by thinking of a chilling ambient 'Fargo' by way of 'Twin Peaks' - so if that's your bag then you may just want to check this one out! Myself, I did indeed enjoy the film (quite a lot in fact on reflection) but annoyingly at this particular screening the films ambience was almost all but ruined by the fact that throughout the feature we were disrupted by the grating cackle of in house staff right outside the screening room (grrrr!!)
Two films later and we're just getting to midday so it's time for a brief interlude into the sunlight (my eyes…their burning…) for something to eat and a chance to recharge the batteries (and enthusiasm) for that afternoon's screening, a film that has created such a good buzz that even I've caught the excited bug…yes, time for Eli Roth's 'Cabin Fever'.
'Cabin Fever' is a strange viewing experience, you see it is actually the grand sum total of every great genre movie that has been made over the past thirty years or so. You get a group of stereotypical fun lovin' American teens who are heading for a break in a secluded log cabin out in the wilds of Hicksville, chuck in a flesh eating disease, a gaggle of inbred rednecks, a selection of all too familiar gory moments, Raimi-esque visuals and you have the ultimate 'cut and paste' horror movie. In anyone else's hands this so easily could fall flat on its face but in the hands of the very talented Eli Roth we have what is probably one of the biggest horror roller coaster rides we've seen in years! It's all there, the aforementioned Evil Dead scenario, some of the best prosthetic gore scenes around (something that's been greatly missed in a sea of cinematic CGI yawn fests) and even the well placed use of David Hess's excellent (and underrated) 'Last House' themes in what will inevitably be any train spotting horror fans wet dream. Sure it's not very original and could have fallen foul to being simply a knowing nod to our beloved genre but it's Roth's talent behind the camera and the down and dirty black humour that laces the film that will have most horror fans grinning from ear to ear. A real horror treat and damn good reason for genre fans to get themselves down to their local multiplexes when the film opens theatrically later this year. In other words, a modern horror classic (albeit a somewhat unoriginal one) - this delivers by the bloody bucket load, check it out (and when you do, don't rush out before the credits roll or else you'll miss some real laugh out loud epilogue moments of twisted hilarity!)
On leaving the cinema in such a high after such a damn good movie the rest of the evening was inevitably going to be a let down, so after grabbing something to eat it was a quiet night back at the digs in the company of (the trashily entertaining) Scot soap 'River City' and an early night (well the previous evenings curry and flaming Glayva frenzy was also taking its toll!)
Wednesday morning and the 9am screenings are a mixed bag of the sort of films that even in my most tolerant moods I couldn't put myself through (without inevitably dozing off and ruining the fun for some hapless fan of family dramas). So it was time to pop round to Adele Hartley's abode for an impromptu screening of Dustin Black's 'My Life With Count Dracula', an engrossing documentary on the life of Donald A Reed (whose name should be very familiar to fans of classic horror cinema). Hopefully we'll have more on this one at a later date as it does indeed seem fascinating viewing but before we could get to the end of the movie we had to rush out to catch the lunchtime screening of Marina de Van's 'Dans Ma Peau' (aka 'In My Skin'). Listed in the promotional material as 'the most shocking film of the year' there was no doubt that I had to be present for this screening and boy was I happy to be in attendance! Writer/director/lead Marina de Van stars as an alluringly beautiful but bored businesswoman who develops a taste for self-mutilation. At a party she accidentally tears the flesh on her leg but rather than passing out in pain (as most would) she finds it all very arousing, so after initially trying out a bit of cutting and gouging on herself she spirals into a compulsive need that leads to all out mutilation and self cannibalism. 'In My Skin' is another of those movies like Claire Denis' 'Trouble Every Day' in that it falls uncomfortably somewhere between art house and out and out horror cinema, but welcomingly works far better than the aforementioned Denis feature (in that it lies more encamped in the horror genre). Marina de Van shines here as an incredible talent and obviously a force to be reckoned with in future film productions. The films pacing moves along briskly (contrary to its potential art house thematics) and visually is delightful viewing. The scenes of self mutilation will have even the strongest of stomachs flinching at times with some nice moments of bloody fun but cleverly also at times shifts the camera away from confronting the carnage whilst still leading the viewer to think they've actually seen what she's doing to her body. And it is the visceral onslaught that added some impromptu live entertainment at the films screening as one by one uneasy and nauseous film critics departed the cinema, obviously distraught by what had been unfolding onscreen (a sure fire mark of approval for any genre fan!) I loved 'In My Skin' and in the main found it to be both uneasy viewing as well as at times blackly amusing (the business dinner and subsequent hotel rendezvous derived much tasteless pleasure for myself). That said, I was briefly concerned about what the reaction to such a movie as this would be by anyone that has experience of self mutilation, I know folk that have indulged in such behaviour over the years and generally this has not been done to derive pleasure but more to reflect the nihilistic and depressed state of said traumatised individuals. But on retrospect de Van's character clearly does not relate in any way to these folk as she's a successful and attractive businesswoman whose life seems very much complete, the act of self-mutilation lies more in the sense of sexually charged eroticism rather than self-destruction. Either way, 'In My Skin' is a great film and well worth your attention when Tartan release it later this year.
So following some brief farewells it was time to rush off for the train back to Glasgow to get back to the business here at SGM Towers, but not before one last jaunt back to Edinburgh a week later for the final night of the Film Festival's fun. This time though not for yet another genre gem but for a special screening of Todd Graff's deranged take on the Kids from Fame with 'Camp'. I wont go into too much detail here on this one as there's no frights or gore but it does deliver some extreme feel good factor as one of the best all singing screen musicals in years. Sure some may not like the idea of a film about summer camp for talented teenagers with sexual confusion frenzy their bag but I've a real soft spot for this kinda movie so both myself and our beloved webmistress Lauren (a likeminded fan of such fare) had a ball at this screening which was nicely rounded off by an appearance by director Graff and an ensemble of said teen crew (hilarious to note that the previously unknown starlets are now brazenly deluded with industry banter "WB have picked up my pilot" he he!)
As far as festivals go, the Edinburgh International Film Festival surely must rate up there with the best on the global film market. With the all too brief taste I had of my first venture there I certainly was impressed both by the varied selection of films screening and the impressive support that the organisers put into place to ensure such a mammoth event goes smoothly, so much so that I reckon I'll be making space in my diary next year to spend much more time there. Edinburgh during festival time may indeed be frantic and at times overpowering and oppressive but it is also the intense hub of all entertainment for that short festival period, in fact there probably wouldn't be a better time for folk to come visit this fine country (oh except for the feast that is 'Dead by Dawn' of course!)
Special thanks to the staff and organisers of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.Back to the Spotlight page