Now in its 72nd instalment, the Edinburgh International Film Festival is the world’s longest continuously-running film festival. This year’s edition opens with the UK premiere of Marc Turtletaub’s jigsaw drama Puzzle, starring Kelly Macdonald and Irrfan Khan. The festival later closes with the UK premiere of Swimming with Men, a British comedy from director Oliver Parker, starring Rob Brydon, Jim Carter, Daniel Mays and Adeel Akhtar.
Beyond the galas, there are many premieres, discoveries and retrospectives of note. Here are 10 highlights from the big programme, with the festival running from 20 June to 1 July.
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Anna and the Apocalypse
A smash hit at last year’s Fantastic Fest in the US, and set for a cinema release this winter, John McPhail’s Anna and the Apocalypse is a Christmas-set high-school zombie comedy musical, shot around Glasgow. Based on that premise alone, it’s likely to be one of the year’s breakout genre offerings, and it’s unsurprisingly booked into a late-night slot for one of its showings here.
Alongside appearing in numerous French and English language productions since her international breakthrough in Inglourious Basterds (2009), actor Mélanie Laurent has made a name for herself as a director with a string of fiction features and documentaries. Diving, one of her two new directorial efforts to recently premiere, follows an alienated, restless photographer (María Valverde), who struggles with her domestic life with her husband and their newborn, choosing to leave them both to pursue deep-sea diving off the coast of Yemen.
Speaking of actor-directors, EIFF hosts the European premiere of Unicorn Store, directed by and starring Academy Award winner Brie Larson alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Joan Cusack. This offbeat comedy is Larson’s feature debut as a director, having made a few shorts over the last few years, including one Sundance prize-winner.
An Elephant Sitting Still
This epic Chinese drama was one of the more acclaimed films from this year’s Berlinale. It’s the story of the northern Chinese city of Manzhouli becoming an obsession for a group of mismatched protagonists; a city where there is said to be an elephant that does nothing but sit and ignore the world. This is the debut and only film of Chinese novelist Bo Hu, who committed suicide aged 29 in October 2017.
One of a number of BFI-backed films receiving their world premiere at the festival, horror Possum is the feature directing debut of writer and actor Matthew Holness, best known for his dual role in cult comedy Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Featuring hideous hand puppets and wicked stepfathers, the film promises a reliably unnerving lead performance from Sean Harris.
‘Time of the Signs’, EIFF’s retrospective this year, is a tri-pronged exploration of predominantly 1980s American cinema, designed to springboard discussions on how the social and political climates of the US today might be reflected in the moviemaking of that era. One strand focuses on the representation of media in mainstream America cinema from 1975-90, while another concerns horror in that same cinema between 1980 and 1985. The third strand, which houses some of the most enticing hidden gems, is dedicated to female directors of the decade. If we’re to pick just one film from the whole retrospective, we’d go with Susan Seidelman’s East Village punk drama Smithereens (1982), which was one of the first American independent films to compete in competition at Cannes.
American filmmakers and divergent career paths in Hollywood are the subject of a few films at this year’s festival, including two projects from Mark Cousins: The Eyes of Orson Welles and Storm in My Heart. Receiving its international premiere at EIFF, Amy Scott’s Hal is a portrait of director Hal Ashby, who made a number of adored films in the 1970s (Harold and Maude and The Last Detail among them), but found that he never really fit in with the Hollywood system. His career faded in the 1980s and he died of cancer by the end of the decade. Scott’s film promises a fitting tribute to an idiosyncratic artist.
Wild Nights with Emily
While Terence Davies’ Emily Dickinson portrait A Quiet Passion (2016) had its fair share of comedy early on, writer-director Madeleine Olnek’s new film is, by all accounts, firmly in that genre. Molly Shannon stars as Dickinson, forced to keep a lesbian love affair secret.
Eight Māori women directors join forces for this collaborative a feature, a film composed of eight single-take sequences each told through the viewpoint of a different woman at a tangi (funeral) for a young boy. Of the films playing outside of the experimental Black Box strand, this looks to be one of the most formally interesting.
A multiple award-winner at this year’s Berlinale, this Paraguayan drama stars Ana Brun (Silver Bear for best actress) as one of two previously wealthy women whose lives are disrupted by financial hardship and imprisonment.