Freelance writer James Stewart takes some chances with his second installment of the Festival Diary from Edinburgh's 69th Film Festival
EIFF Artwork outside The Usher Hall in Edinburgh's Theatre District
Films at this festival are selected “to represent the most innovative and adventurous developments in world cinema,” and the festival seeks “stylistic boldness, strength of form, and the ambition to use the medium in a way that resists cliché,” from their participating filmmakers.
I have been through my own selection process from the festival programme. Comedy and science fiction will always be of particular interest to me but I found 48 separate films or events to fill out my schedule. I knew that even with no other commitments it was an impossible task, assuming time travel or cloning were not an option.
One film that made it through my selection process was Index Zero, a dystopian science fiction film from Italy, where people are given an index based on their worth to society and treated accordingly. It was certainly well made but lacked logic and didn’t move me, except during a startlingly claustrophobic and tense early scene early. The most excitement I experienced was when a fellow attendee sat on me during the first few minutes of the film that were in complete darkness due to a projection issue.
The screening of Welcome to Me also had an unexpected surprise at the start – a message of introduction and gratitude from the film’s director Shira Piven. Piven spoke specifically about the bravery and talent of Eliot Laurence, whose debut feature this is, in crafting a sharp satire of self-obsession and the role of the media. The film follows a woman with borderline personality disorder, played by Kristen Wiig, who wins the lottery and starts her own daytime chat show. Piven also highlighted Wiig’s powerful central performance in her introduction. I agree completely about Wiig’s performance, but felt that roughly two thirds in, the satire had been played out as far as the filmmakers were willing to go and the plot resolved in a standard and generally upbeat way. The theme deserved a much darker conclusion and this would have made for a much more powerful film.
Thus far then, my science fiction and comedy preferences had not inspired me. I did find inspiration in a film I took a chance on, Love & Mercy a biopic of select parts of the life of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys – played by Paul Dano in the 1960’s and John Cusack in the 1980’s. This film was released in the US on June 5 and I urge everyone to take the opportunity to see it. I was utterly captivated and engaged in this fascinating portrait. Though the film focuses completely on Wilson and both actors who portray him do a wonderful job, the stand out performance comes from Elizabeth Banks as Melinda Ledbetter, a potential love interest for Wilson in the 80’s. Banks can convey the weight of an unseen history and layers of emotion in the tiniest moment on screen. After seeing the film, I immediately downloaded Pet Sounds, whose recording and creation is a stand out sequence in the film. Now, four days later, the film will not leave my imagination. It currently has no UK release date.
All of my cinematic experiences last week, disappointing or not, were about discovering cinema through taking chances. And that’s what expertly-crafted festivals are all about – allowing filmmakers and film enthusiasts the opportunity to curate your own festival journey from the best new cinema around.
Part One of our Festival Diary from the Edinburgh International Film Festival is available, Part Three will be online soon.