Moving, for the time being, from June to late August, this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival is also a shorter edition than in pre-pandemic times – a week-long affair running from 18 to 25 August.
As with last autumn’s BFI London Film Festival, EIFF will also be a locally physical and nationally digital hybrid. Unlike that first coronavirus-era edition of LFF, though, every feature programmed is scheduled for at least one theatrical screening at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse or Festival Theatre, with some getting two to three. For those outside of the Scottish capital, most – though not all – of the line-up will also be available to rent digitally through Filmhouse at Home.
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The festival, which is supported by the BFI through our Audience Fund, opens with the European premiere of the acclaimed Pig, in which Nicolas Cage plays a reclusive truffle hunter living in the Oregonian wilderness, forced to return to a past he left behind in Portland. Closing the festival is the UK premiere of comedic drama Here Today, written and directed by Billy Crystal, who stars alongside Tiffany Haddish. These two films will also screen simultaneously at some of the festival’s participating venues across Scotland, which this year include Glasgow Film Theatre, Oban Phoenix, Eden Court Inverness and DCA Dundee.
One splashy programme inclusion is the UK premiere of Leos Carax’s Annette, his Sparks-penned musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, which opened this year’s Cannes. But at the time of publishing, both Annette showings are already sold out, and it’s one of the films that won’t be rentable digitally.
So, excluding that evidently hot ticket, here are 10 feature highlights from this year’s EIFF selection.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Annette might be sold out, but another highly-anticipated screen musical has a special preview at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre. Jonathan Butterell, who co-developed Everybody’s Talking About Jamie for the stage, directs this film adaptation of the story of a Sheffield teenager (Max Harwood) who wants to become a drag queen. As the film was snapped up by Amazon for an autumn release on Prime Video, this will be a rare chance to see it on the big screen.
Recipient of two Oscars (for Jurassic Park and Return of the Jedi), special effects veteran Phil Tippett has worked on some of the most enduring sci-fi and fantasy films of the last 45 years, including the original Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), RoboCop (1987) and Starship Troopers (1997). Thirty-odd years in the making, Mad God is his magnum opus as a director: a feature-length stop-motion animation promising horrifying creations and landscapes worthy of Hieronymus Bosch. Fresh from its world premiere at Locarno, EIFF will present the first UK showings.
Directed by award-winning journalist Jennifer Ngo, documentary Faceless takes viewers to the frontline of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. It provides an intimate portrayal of four young protestors fighting to protect their way of life and freedom under the looming shadow of authoritarianism.
Backed by the BFI Film Fund, Martyrs Lane arrives at Edinburgh just after a world premiere at Montreal’s famed, genre-focused Fantasia International Film Festival. An expansion of writer-director Ruth Platt’s own 2019 short, this ghost story brings to mind both Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone (2001). Denise Gough stars as the matriarch of a family based in a large vicarage, whose lonely youngest daughter, Leah (Kiera Thompson), is visited at her window each night by a winged little girl, whose friendliness soon turns sinister.
Two Cents Worth of Hope
EIFF will present new 4K restorations of Federico Fellini’s La strada (1954) and Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1963), though a rarer retrospective highlight is the Italian film Two Cents Worth of Hope (1952), from director Renato Castellani. This postwar romance is perhaps best known for sharing the (then) top prize at Cannes that year with Orson Welles’ Othello.
The Beta Test
Following Thunder Road (2018) and The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020), Jim Cummings returns as director and star with The Beta Test, here co-writing and directing with P.J. McCabe, who also features in a supporting role. Opening with one of the tensest and most distressing scenes of recent memory, The Beta Test is best described as a surrealist psychological horror with a vague Twilight Zone feel, in which film-world satire, erotic thriller, a rumination on digital life and an existential breakdown narrative are merged together for surprisingly compatible results.
The Road Dance
The Outer Hebrides have very recently appeared in Ben Sharrock’s contemporary Limbo (2020). With The Road Dance, a world premiere at Edinburgh, the islands get a period film treatment. Inspired by a true story, it follows the coming of age for one islander (Hermione Corfield) in the years just before the First World War.
Prince of Muck
Speaking of Hebridean islands, on 19 August the world premiere of documentary Prince of Muck will simultaneously be screened in 12 participating locations across Scotland. Cindy Jansen’s film captures the Isle of Muck and one man in particular: Lawrence MacEwen, now 80, who has farmed there since the late 1960s. Revered for his eco-conscious stewardship, Lawrence now finds himself battling to preserve his vision of the island for future generations.
With echoes of pursuit-and-persecution films like the Czech classic Diamonds of the Night (1964), Haider Rashid’s thriller Europa, which bowed at Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes this year, charts the brutal fight for survival of a young Iraqi man across the border between Turkey and Bulgaria, as he is tracked by so-called ‘migrant hunters’: nationalist civilian vigilantes.
Feature-length animation is particularly well-represented at Edinburgh this year, particularly with films – including Mad God – aimed at a more adult audience. Written, directed and solo-animated by Sheffield-based filmmaker Ryan Braund (making his feature debut), Absolute Denial is a cyberpunk-ish tale with shades of Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Pi (1998), in which a programmer is caught in a dangerous battle of wits with the supercomputer he has created.
Originally published: 16 August 2021