Edinburgh Film Festival opens in upheaval

Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle are kicking off the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival with their Irish crime caper The Guard. But this once world renowned showcase for indie filmmakers appears to be in dire need of a real-life guardian since artistic director Hannah McGill resigned last year.

Gleeson and Cheadle risk scuffing their designer shoes on the night, because, in a conscious move to part with tradition, the red carpets have been rolled away and celebrity photocalls abandoned. James Mullighan who is – for the moment, at least – filling in for McGill has talked of rebranding the EIFF as “the brain” of the UK Film Industry and, as such, any hint of glamour is being frowned upon (with overgrown eyebrows, we expect).

The Guard - Don Cheadle & Brendan Gleeson

The Guard offers the only light relief in a programme weighed down with socially conscious documentaries and dark thrillers, including Glasgow-based sci-fi yarn Perfect Sense starring Ewan McGregor. But what a shame if the actor should roll up, flashing those famous pearly whites and not have anyone to take his picture. After all, aren’t these smaller, more challenging independent films deserving of the world’s attention…?

Is it right that Mullighan should turn his nose up at the publicity mongers at a time when the festival is going into decline? More likely, he’s just putting on a brave front after devastating budget cuts. Apparently, red carpets don’t come cheap at Allied’s, but surely there’s a deeper, systemic problem here and it threatens to turn what used to be a joyous celebration of independent film into an exclusive club for film snobs.

Arguably, this process of sulky retreat started long before McGill walked away, when the Film Festival broke away from the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008 and was granted an earlier slot in summer (June as opposed to August). If the idea then was to steal some thunder from the comics and contemporary dancers, the plan backfired.

But surely, that doesn’t justify Mullighan’s plan to rain harder on the parade. Does it?