This year, the 70th Annual Edinburgh International Film Festival opened in typical Scottish fashion. A red carpet and team of enthusiastic volunteers guided a crowd of eager, magnificently dressed individuals out of the rain and into the Festival Theatre. The rain, however, failed to wash away high spirits as we capitalised on free ice cream and impatiently awaited the start of the film.
Tonight’s film would hold a particular significance to our town of St Andrews. Tommy’s Honour, directed by Jason Connery, tells the story of Old Tom Morris and his son (played by Peter Mullen and Jack Lowden, respectively) boasting of their contributions to the sport of golf. Paying tribute to the town’s importance in this story, Connery graces the screen with the cobbled streets and rocky beaches we have become so familiar with today. The rationale to open the festival in this way was obvious: a Scottish film to open a Scottish festival. For years, it has been the festival’s policy to introduce Scottish cinema to visiting spectators from around the world. Here, I could not help but feel that the opening night might have benefited from allowing an international film to take the spotlight. However, it is certain that many responded positively to Tommy’s Honour. The enthusiasm from the American students beside me who were hoping to visit St Andrews made me wonder if this was all but an elaborate recruitment campaign by the university!
Afterwards, we again took to the streets and hurried to the opening night after-party. For many of us, this was the highlight of the night. The party was hosted in the National Museum of Scotland, which was decorated with deck chairs, old golf clubs and putting holes to match the theme of the night. A huge staff of volunteers served snacks and made it their goal that no glass in the party went dry, ensuring an overall spectacular night. I would later find that this high standard would carry over to the rest of the festival’s industry events.
One event, a lecture by Pasquale Iannone entitled “Insight into the EIFF: Colour in Contemporary Cinema,” served as a fascinating insight on the subtle workings of the filmmaking process. Free and open to the public, this hour-long lecture explored the uses of colour in western cinema and exposed its important yet hidden role in the creation of mood. Iannone presented an engaging discourse on the nuanced impact and connotations of colour, contrasting carefully chosen films such as Filth and Sunshine on Leith. These free lectures are held every year by Iannone and Martine Pierquin and come highly recommended.
Another event I was lucky enough to attend (courtesy of the Insight into EIFF programme organised by the University of Edinburgh) was a Q&A with director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma and Chasing Amy). This event was sold out in seconds, the reasons for which became clear almost as soon as Smith walked out on stage. At these types of events, it is almost unavoidable that the audience feels detached from the person on stage, as if separated by an invisible barrier. Not here. Smith immediately welcomed us as if we were all just hanging out in his living room. There was a strong sense of intimacy as he held nothing back and answered every question in the greatest detail. He shared everything: heartwarming memories with Prince and Alan Rickman, amusing anecdotes about Johnny Depp and personal thoughts. By far, the most special moment at the event was the message he gave us to take home. Smith emphasised the importance of following your own desires, regardless of appealing to wider audiences. This message hit home in his deliberation for making his movie Tusk, which is about a man who turns into a walrus. His reasoning was simple: “I wanted to see this film, and no one else was going to make it.” The critics may have hated it, but he made a film he knew he would enjoy and that was enough. It was a perfect message for budding filmmakers attending an international film festival.