Why Do Films Go To These Things? – #watchthisspace

In #EIFF, #watchthisspace, Features, Features, FILM, THEATRE & TV, HOME by Hannah Oliver

#watchthisspace is for the PTL team’s highlights and viewpoints at EdFilmFest: the ones to watch at this year’s festival, in some short ruminations by the ones who have watched.

In the most obvious sense, film festivals are the place where films are seen first, the general assumption being that those showcased are the best of the bunch, and that the best of this bunch will be recognised, plucked out for awards and go on to successful and widespread general release as a result. Thereby, film festivals adhere to that natural human and increasingly prominent postmodern instinct to be the First to See Things; to be ahead of the curve, avant-garde, to go forth and tell the world what thee has seen, on whatever perpetuating mode of hyperreality one prefers.

Therefore, by extension, it becomes the heady and intense task of film festival curators to anticipate success even as they realise it for each film, either via the popularist route (What “The People” Know and Love) or the cutting edge (What No One Has Ever Seen Before) – and premiere them before anyone else. Films showcased, depending on the festival’s prestige, will often require the additional draw of being a national, continental or world premiere. Afterwards, it becomes the task of the festival’s jurors – mostly a combination of film theorists, critics and screen celebrities – to anticipate this success by awarding prizes to the “right” films. Critical reception to EIFF 2015’s inclusion of Talulah Riley’s Scottish Mussel in its ‘Best of the Fest’, for example, was a rather epidemic raised eyebrow, and the film hasn’t been screened since.

However, neither festival curation nor navigation is as simple as that. As film curator Devin Karambelas articulated in yesterday evening’s introductory article, ‘Why Do People Go To These Things?’, film festivals are just as much an opportunity to see films that one wouldn’t necessarily see at all otherwise. This may be because, as an audience member, one’s own cinema-going habits are limited by busy schedules or limited to blockbusters, or because, as a filmmaker, one’s film is too niche or too lacking in funds or in the wrong place at the wrong time to get a decent distribution package. Festival initiatives such as EIFF 2016’s Focus on Finland are a direct riposte to the lacking distribution of certain countries’ films on the international stage.

Thus, the film festival simultaneously functions for the filmmaker as the one shot, the big break, and for the audience member as a one-time only experience. As Devin said yesterday, when one goes to see something that pushes the boat out on cinema in general and/or one’s own habitual watchlist, the attendance of the unexpectedly awesome film can be akin to a spiritual experience which will not and cannot be replicated or relived in any other space or time.

I thought, therefore, it might be interesting to look at three films that showcased at last year’s festival – they are, in fact, a selection of my own personal highlights as I eked every free pass I could out of my Front of House role – to see what happened when they came to Edinburgh, and where they went afterwards.

Inside Out. Dir. Pete Docter (2015).

Many of you will be acquainted with Inside Out, Disney’s animated film about steely young Riley and the riotous representation of her individual emotions as she grows up. The film had its UK premiere at the 69th Edinburgh International Film Festival, and went on to gross $850m at the box office having had a $175m production budget. It currently stands at a rather whopping 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. From my spot in Cineworld as an EIFF Front of House member, I watched each showing sell out and the festival demographic expand and expand as crowds of excited children and entire young families flooded the venue. It was a thoroughly enjoyable film that made my own primary school-teacher mother cry (‘popular culture recognising children as complex emotional beings’, etc, etc) – and this “popular culture” is rather the point. Inside Out did not need the soft, warm buoyance of a film festival showcase to amass an audience, generate interest or guarantee general release. It did, however, bring a whole wealth of fresh faces through the doors of the festival, like a gateway film to festival culture, if you will.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Dir. Marielle Heller (2015).

San Franciscan sexual adventures in the 1970s through the eyes of a teenage illustrator, Minnie (played brilliantly by British Bel Powley), also had its UK premiere at last year’s film festival. Powley and her co-star Alexander Skarsgård (who plays Minnie’s mother’s boyfriend and then Minnie’s own love interest, replete with the most fantastic porntache known to man) frequented EIFF for a Q&A after the premiere. Powley stole the show against a quieter Skarsgård who let her have the floor, whilst questions came flooding in about her reflections on representing the largely heretofore unrepresented: realistic, uninhibited ventures into female teenage sexuality. Unfortunately Skarsgård’s porntache was not present – but, equally disappointingly, neither did he turn up in stunning 1970s drag as he did at the San Francisco premiere. Despite this, the film was named in EIFF’s ‘Best of the Fest’, and was involved in relatively widespread controversy just prior to its general release when an all-adult-male British Board of Classification rated the film an 18 – meaning the (mostly female) filmmakers’ main intended audience (teenage girls), couldn’t watch it. The film went on to gross $1.5m at the box office and has 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Bereave. Dir. Evangelos Giovanis, George Giovanis (2015).

This was potentially my personal favourite cinematic experience at last year’s festival. It is a still, quiet film almost imperceptibly unravelling the prophetic grief of its main characters over the course of a single day, as the vague surrealism and miscomprehension of the everyday that comes with bereavement, is echoed in the very structure of the film and the rendering of the cityscape of uptown New York. The protagonist Garvey, played by Malcolm McDowell, is a writer who speaks in a sort of prose-poetry, and it is sickening that his beautiful words are so proficiently written in the second language of mothertongued Greek, Evangelos Giovanis. Bereave’s European Premiere showcased last year in Edinburgh’s Dominion Theatre with a Q&A from the co-directing Giovanis brothers and co-star Jane Seymour – and has since disappeared off the grid. The Youtube trailer, uploaded by George Giovanis in February last year, has been removed by its user; the top Google searches are its page on EIFF 2015, a Kickstarter campaign and a Rotten Tomatoes feature that is as of yet unavailable. It is likely that the film is still on the festival circuit (although the last showcase entry on the official Bereavethemovie website is from September) and trying to secure a distribution deal. My fingers are certainly crossed – but this film is testament to the fact that films go to festivals for what is likely a one-chance-only screening for months and years to come, and occasionally, sadly, for forever.

Hannah Oliver

Hannah O is the Editor of FILM, THEATRE & TV at PTL. She really likes camera equipment, long words, and anything she can deep fat fry. Do not approach Hannah when she is eating fried food in the early hours; she will be drunk and convinced she knows everything. Elsewise, these days she may be found in Edinburgh University Library with her head in a book – probably Facebook.

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(Image: Edinburgh International Film Festival)