With the 75th edition of the EIFF fast approaching, what better time than now to look back at great films from three-quarters of a century! Since 1947, we’ve screened many of the finest films from all across the globe. Some films we’ve been lucky enough to host a premiere for, while others came to us in the years following their release, as part of retrospectives and special events. Either way, we’re proud to have given the people of Edinburgh, and its visitors during festival season, the opportunity to watch some of the greatest movies ever made.

To celebrate, we’re going to look at a classic that was released every year since our festival’s inception and tell you why we love it. The only catch is that it must have screened at least once at EIFF!

This week, we’re starting out way back in the 1940’s and 50’s, just as EIFF was getting started…



1947 // Paisan

A soldier and a young boy sit and converse atop a pile of rubble.

Director: Roberto Rosselini

Screened at EIFF: 1947 Opening Gala

The honour of being the first ever film to screen at Edinburgh International Film Festival goes to Roberto Rossellini’s follow-up to his breakout film, Rome Open City, Paisan. Blending fiction with documentary, Rosselini worked with both professional and nonprofessional actors to tell six stories based across the length of Italy, following the country’s liberation at the end of World War II. This ambitious piece of work has stood the test of time and is still as moving in 2022 as it was on day one of EIFF in 1947.

Stream: BFI Player


1948 // Waverley Steps

A man walks down a large outdoor staircase.

Director: John Eldridge

Screened at EIFF: 1948

Not the biggest blockbuster on this list by any means, but we’ve picked it for fairly obvious reasons! This mini-documentary, produced by the BFI, lasts just 30 minutes, and follows a day in the life of Danish sailors who arrive into the docks of Leith and proceed to explore Edinburgh. Shot in a style clearly inspired by the German expressionist films of the 1920’s, many of the city’s most famous streets and landmarks can be spotted, and provides an intriguing window into the past, when EIFF was just in its infancy.

Stream: BFI Player (Free)
Further Reading: Waverley Steps: A Day in Edinburgh (Patrick Russell)


1949 // The Third Man

A silhouette of a man standing back-on, in a brightly lit sewer.

Director: Carol Reed

Screened at EIFF: Classics Strand in 2015

Carol Reed’s 1949 classic was beautifully restored and screened at EIFF in 2015. Memorable for its stunning black-and-white cinematography, adding mystery to its post-war Vienna setting, Reeds film stars Joseph Cotton as pulp novelist Holly Martins, who visits the city to investigate the apparent death of his old friend Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles. Worth watching for its iconic chase scene through the city’s sewers alone, The Third Man was voted the BFI’s greatest British film of all time in 1999, 50 years after its release. Welles himself would eventually attend EIFF, in 1953, where he delivered a sold-out lecture on the power of cinema!

Stream: Apple TV


1951 // The Tales Of Hoffmann

A female dancer stands on a lilypad on stage.

Director: Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger

Screened at EIFF: 2005 Michael Powell Retrospective

We're cheating here slightly, as you'll notice we didn't put a film from 1950. Unsurprisingly it's pretty difficult to track down programmes from over 70 years ago, but if anyone knows of any classics from that year that screened at EIFF, please do let us know!

Anyway, we thought we'd double-up on 1951 to make up for it, as it was clearly a vintage year for EIFF. There's probably no better place to start with filmmakers who have had an impact on EIFF than Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger anyway, as their names are literally on our biggest award! Their 1951 comic-opera, filmed in stunning technicolour, screened as part of a 2005 retrospective on Powell's work. His partnership with Pressburger produced some of the finest British films ever made, including this one, The Red Shoes, and A Matter Of Life And Death.

Stream: Apple TV


1951 // The Man In The White Suit

A number of men grapple with a man in a white suit.

Director: Alexander Mackendrick

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 1951

Long before Alec Guinness was traversing galaxies far far away, he was making his name in the classic British comedies of Ealing Studios. The Man In The White Suit, released and screened at EIFF in 1951, went on to become one of the most popular films of the year in the UK, and is still considered one of this country's finest comedies. 

Stream: Apple TV


1952 // Singin' In The Rain

A man swings around a lamp post in the rain, as he clutches an umbrella.

Director: Stanley Donen / Gene Kelly

Screened at EIFF: Film Fest in the City 2017

The legendary musical had the crowds singing along (thankfully in the sunshine instead of the rain) at EIFF Film Fest in the City in 2017. Featuring one of cinema’s most iconic scenes ever, as Gene Kelly spectacularly swings around a lamppost in the pouring rain, this 1952 classic is essential viewing for film fans of every generation. Kelly would later attend EIFF in 1956, and of his experience he said "I have always been a confirmed believer in the 'Film Festival' as an incentive to higher standards of creative work, and anyone who has been to Edinburgh will tell you that every visitor leaves with the resolve to do better things." 

Stream: Apple TV


1953 // Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

A woman in a bright pink dress is backed by a number of male dancers in suits.

Director: Howard Hawks

Screened at EIFF: 2007 Anita Loos Retrospective

EIFF 2007 followed the theme of "Cinema and the Written Word", and so it was fitting that the retrospective that year focussed on one of the queens of scriptwriting from Hollywood's golden age, Anita Loos. Arguably her best-known work came in the form of 1953, Howard Hawks-directed musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, the film has gone on to inspire many homages in the years since its release, perhaps most notably in Baz Luhrmann's 2001 extravaganza, Moulin Rouge!, in which Nicole Kidman performs a recreation Monroe's "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" scene.

Rent: Apple TV


1954 // La Strada

A group of circus performers stand in a row and look upwards.

Director: Federico Fellini

Screened at EIFF: 2021 Restored Classics

The film that launched the great Italian director's career on an international scale. He would go on to create some of the most mesmerising and ambitious cinema of its time, like 1963's , but this story of a heartbreakingly naïve woman sold into a marriage and the circus is where it all started. The film has had a lasting impression and influence on Italian and world cinema since its 1954 release, and we were delighted to welcome a brand-new 4K restoration to EIFF just last year!

Rent: Apple TV


1955 // Monsieur Hulot's Holiday

A man looks out of a skylight window towards a beach.

Director: Jacques Tati

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 1955

Released two years earlier in its native France, but not arriving in Edinburgh until 1955, Monsieur Hulot's Holiday was the first of Tati's films to introduce the character who would later become an integral part of the director's filmography. The clumsy and chaotic (but very good-natured) M. Hulot would go on to become a major influence on British funnyman Rowan Atkinson and his own comedic creation, Mr. Bean. Following the 1955 screening, Tati sent a telegram to the EIFF team simply saying "Ta Ta, Tattoo, Tati". What he meant by that, we're still not entirely sure...


1956 // Pather Panchali

A young boy, with mud on his face, smiles.

Director: Satyajit Ray

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 1956

Legend of Indian cinema, Satyajit Ray, took home the Diploma Of Merit at EIFF 1956 for the first part of his "Apu Trilogy" with Pather Panchali, which follows the childhood lives of Apu and his older sister Durga, as they endure the harsh realities of poverty. Praised for its gritty realism, Pather Panchali was one of the first films that truly kickstarted the Indian film industry.

Stream: Amazon Prime


1957 // The Seventh Seal

A knight and Death play a game of chess on a beach.

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 1957 Opening Gala

At the time of The Seventh Seal’s release, Ingmar Bergman, while a prolific filmmaker in his native Sweden, had yet to make an impact on the global scene. That would all change following the release of this film, following the story of a knight returning to Sweden after the Crusades and finding himself in a life-or-death game of chess against the Grim Reaper. Hailed now as one of the greatest films in the history of world cinema, The Seventh Seal has become iconic through homage and parody alike.

Stream: BFI Player


1958 // Wild Strawberries

An elderly man speaks to a group of young people through the window of his car.

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 1958 Opening Gala

Not a bad two years for Mr. Bergman, as the follow-up to his 1957 breakthrough took top honours at the 1958 Berlin Film Festival in July that year. A month later it opened the 11th edition of EIFF, the second of his films in a row to do so. This deep study of humanity has gone on to be considered one of Bergman’s numerous masterpieces.

Stream: BFI Player


1959 // The Nun's Story

A nun stands in a church.

Director: Fred Zinnemann 

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 1959

A major box-office hit in its day, The Nun's Story is now more of a hidden gem amongst the films of Audrey Hepburn, although the iconic actress often cited it as her personal favourite of those she starred in! While perhaps overlooked now, this poignant drama went on to receive 8 Academy Award nominations in the year after it screened in Edinburgh.

Rent: Apple TV


Come back next Thursday, when we'll take a look at some cinematic highlights of the swinging sixties!