Edinburgh International Film Festival gets a new date


Related: Q&A: John Maybury

LONDON -- All eyes will be on this year's edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival to see if the biggest gamble in the event's 60-year-plus history has paid off. The gamble, not taken lightly by the organizers of the world's longest continuously running film festival, has been to transfer the event from its traditional August slot to June.

One of the biggest problems with the old August slot, according to organizers, was the sheer number of competing late-summer events, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

EIFF managing director Ginnie Atkinson says the new June time slot, which means this year's 62nd edition comes just 10 months after the previous year's event, should be regarded as a healthy piece of evolution. "As far as the Edinburgh audience is concerned, the feedback on the date change has been resoundingly positive," she says. "People have said, in our research ahead of the festival, that they feel free to choose to go to something at the festival without having to balance the demands of a million and one other (August events)."

There have already been a couple of developments that are being touted by organizers and filmmakers as votes of confidence in the new position on the calendar.

In March, EIFF took delivery of 1.9 million pounds.

($3.7 million) in funding over three years from the U.K. Film Council's festival development initiative. The linkup between the Council and EIFF is part of an overall package that will see the government-backed funding body make 4.5 million pounds of National Lottery money available over three years to help fund U.K. movie shindigs of "international and national significance."

U.K. Film Council CEO John Woodward says that the cash for Edinburgh "will ultimately benefit all members of the U.K. film community from production through to distribution." Atkinson reveals that the festival has drawn up a three-year marketing plan geared toward "making serious inroads into potential international film festivalgoers around the globe."

The other vote of confidence has come from the sales companies and distributors, who have been open to offering movies to EIFF in June. "We've got 15 world premieres this year, which is more than last year," says Hannah McGill, who is in her sophomore year as the festival's artistic director. "We found a lot of distributors and sales agents were proactive with us for this edition."

Despite coming so quickly in the calendar after the beast that is the Festival de Cannes, McGill has assembled an impressive lineup for EIFF -- including famed DP Christopher Doyle's directorial debut, "Warsaw Dark," Isabel Coixet's "Elegy" and Pixar/Disney's "Wall-E."

McGill stresses that even if a film unspools in Cannes, it doesn't rule out the possibility of playing at EIFF. "Cannes doesn't do what we do," she says. "Our focus is very different, and I am not resistant to bringing films (to Edinburgh) that have been there." She cites filmmaker Terence Davies' "Of Time and the City," which occupied an Out of Competition slot at Cannes last month but will also screen at Edinburgh.

But Atkinson admits that the jury will be out on the June date until after the event shuts its doors and tallies its attendance. "When we first made the date change, we thought we could allow for a slight dip in admissions, but now we are aiming for at least as many admissions as last year's August event, which stood at 55,000," she says. "Until the audiences and attendees have experienced the festival, we can't say it's worked."