Chris' Festival Diary: We are off and running

We are off and running.

At our Opening Night, the stage of Festival Theatre Edinburgh was made resplendent by Drake Doremus in red and Felicity Jones in green, presenting their beautifully wrought and atmospheric Breathe In. During the screening I sat next to Felicity’s mother, who was seeing the film for the first time. Afterward she told me how much she admired the film. Not maternal indulgence but eloquent appreciation of the value of the work.

The subtlety and maturity of the film remind me of Virginia Gilbert’s debut feature, A Long Way from Home, whose world premiere we hosted on Thursday, with the director on stage at Cineworld alongside the film’s two stars, Natalie Dormer (member of our International Competition jury) and one of my acting heroes, James Fox. Three nicer people you could not meet, and A Long Way from Home is more than a nice film: a richly textured work that’s at once searching and relaxed, and very sure in its portrayal of contrasting couples (Fox and Brenda Fricker; Dormer and Paul Nicholls) on vacation in the south of France.

A Long Way from Home is in our Michael Powell Award competition this year, competing against a number of diverse films, among which you can’t get more diverse than Svengali, a spirited satire on the London music industry starring Jonny Owen, Vicky McClure, Martin Freeman and Michael Smiley. Among its many virtues Svengali (based on a cult YouTube series) has one of the best uses of a Big Star song in cinema.

One of our retrospectives this year is of the great Hollywood director Richard Fleischer. Fantastic Voyage and The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing are on today and I’ll introduce them. The range of his work (between the two films just mentioned, how great a span!) and the complex structural thinking that goes into his films make him a distinctive figure. In Fantastic Voyage, we take a submarine trip through the human body.

We might have included Fantastic Voyage in our Pathway on The Sea, where Fleischer’s delirious imaginings would fit right in among the truly shocking Leviathan and the gripping The Deep. Another kind of voyage is the one taken by the camera through a park in China in the marvellous People’s Park by JP Sniadecki and Libbie D Cohn. And there’s a different kind of fantastic voyage taken through the American heartland by Morgan Matthews in his startling documentary Shooting Bigfoot. If you can possibly see all the films mentioned in this paragraph you’ll find your head swimming afterwards the way Joan Collins’s must be on that red velvet swing.

The expansiveness of Fleischer, together with his ability with sophisticated melodrama, find an echo in the lush visual magnificence and passionate intensity of Reaching for the Moon, by noted Brazilian auteur Bruno Barreto.

Of the 53 masterpieces sampled in Mark Cousins’s brilliant, beguiling and rich A Story of Children and Film, which comes to Edinburgh fresh from its success last month at Cannes, I was delighted to find that one of them was in our retrospective last year, Shinji Somai’s transcendent Moving. I believe Mark discovered it for the first time with our screening; there could hardly be a more vivid example of the effect a film festival can have on filmmaking and film criticism. Mark was in the audience at our Jean Grémillon symposium on Friday and has been seeing lots of films here - maybe we can look forward to more such effects to come...

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