Inaugurated in the same year as the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947, the Edinburgh International Film Festival is the world's longest continually-running film festival, and has helped to define the type of event that has since become so pivotal to film culture worldwide.
Founded as the International Festival of Documentary Films, its first edition was opened by John Grierson, founder of the British documentary movement. Embracing both pure documentary as well as a wide swathe of films made outside the constraints of the studio system, early audiences thronged to see work by filmmakers as varied as Roberto Rossellini, Robert Flaherty, Jacques Tati and pioneering animator Norman McLaren.
As the Festival’s reputation and ambitions grew over the 1950s, the programme expanded to incorporate international fiction films, and visitors included Alexander Mackendrick, John Huston, Carl Dreyer, Dirk Bogarde, Vittorio di Sica and Gene Kelly. Chief amongst the filmmakers whose UK reputations it helped establish at this time was Ingmar Bergman, with UK premieres of his newest work being given over five consecutive Festival editions between 1957 and 1961.
In 1969 its groundbreaking retrospective element was introduced, and helped to define that now-standard element in film festival programming. Amongst their initial subjects were Samuel Fuller (1969), Roger Corman (1970), Margaret Tait (1971), Douglas Sirk (1972), Werner Herzog (1973), Ousmane Sembene (1973) and Martin Scorsese (1975).
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Festival consolidated its reputation as a pioneering force for UK audiences, screening films from the New German Cinema and the new wave of American Independents, and including the Women's Film Festival as part of EIFF 1972, only the second such focus on the work of female directors to take place anywhere in the world. Festival audiences were able to attend gala screenings of new films from across the whole spectrum of film culture, from the UK premieres of Blade Runner, Alien and ET: The Extraterrestrial to Derek Jarman's controversial The Last of England and the restored version of Abel Gance's epic Napoleon complete with full orchestral score.
Emerging British talents have also been celebrated throughout EIFF history, with the Festival presenting world premieres of formative films by directors including Bill Douglas (My Childhood, 1972), Jane Arden (The Other Side of the Underneath, 1972), Bill Forsyth (That Sinking Feeling, 1979), Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, previously intended as a television film before its success at EIFF 1985) and Peter Strickland (Bubblegum, 1996, and Berberian Sound Studio, 2012).
In recent years, the Festival has showcased some of the best emerging and established talent the film industry has to offer. Recent guests include Elijah Wood, Jennifer Lawrence, Béla Tarr, Ewan McGregor, William Friedkin, Bill Nighy, Robert Carlyle, Felicity Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, David Cronenberg, Mike Leigh, Eli Roth, Samantha Morton, Lynne Ramsay, Ray Harryhausen, Sigourney Weaver, Charlize Theron, Albert Maysles, Darren Aronofsky, Errol Morris, Roger Deakins, Thelma Schoomaker, Wang Bing, Shane Meadows and Sir Sean Connery. Notable recent premieres have included Fish Tank, A Most Wanted Man, Brave, Tabu, Frances Ha, 35 Shots of Rum, Snowpiercer, The Hurt Locker, Moon, Man on Wire, Control, Let the Right One In, Little Miss Sunshine, Tsotsi, Billy Elliot and Amores Perros.
EIFF has developed into a crucial business hub for the UK and international film industry, a key attraction for Edinburgh, and one of the world’s best-loved audience festivals. With an emphasis upon new talent, discovery and innovation, EIFF’s vibrant programme of films and events combines a commitment to audience edification and pleasure with a strong ongoing stake in the development the UK and Scottish film industries.
2016 Festival Diary:
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