Friday, August 17, 2007

Greetings from Scotland

Arrived in Edinburgh yesterday, and am staying in a fabulous litle flat in Leith. In fact, I'm the first tenant! One of the good things about it is that a no. 10 bus stop is just round the corner, and that's one of the buses that goes up Lothian Road and stops outside the Filmhouse. Perfect!

Yesterday was a Book Festival day for me; starting with a "Lived Lives" session with John Lanchester and Sofka Zinovieff talking about the books they had written about their families. It was a fascinating session, in the way they talked about uncovering secrets their families had kept, to the extent in John Lanchester's case that his mother had pretended to be someone else entirely for the duration of her married life. Sofka Zinovieff's book is about her grandma, who was a White Russian princess who later became a Communist, to the horror of some of her family. It was interesting to hear how they had both negotiated the question of telling "the truth", or a truth, and the risks of offending or alienating family members who remembered a person somewhat differently.

Next was a session with Steven Hall and Jenny Turner, who have both written novels with an amnesiac central character, first novels in both cases. They were interesting but compared to the previous session, their inexperience on the festival circuit showed. Then a session called "Ballads of the Book", which is an initiative begun by Roddy Woomble of Idlewild some time ago to bring Scottish writers and musicians together to collaborate on producing songs. Again, an excellent session, with songs from Emma Pollock, and Roddy and Rod from Idlewild, and discussion of the challenges of writing words for songs, as opposed to words for stories or poems, from A L Kennedy, Ali Smith, Alan Bissett and Louise Welsh. A good way to round off the day.

This morning, got into the Filmhouse early to pick up tickets from the delegate's desk in the Filmhouse - the advantage of having an Industry pass is that there's an allocation every day for several films and talks some of which are sold out to the public - if you want something badly enough, you just have to make sure you're there early enough. Having managed to get tickets for a talk and two films, I then headed for C Central to see "Shakespeare for Breakfast" (and got the next-to-last ticket). It's a very funny, clever, witty show, where as usual, the more Shakespeare you know, the funnier it is, but you don't need to be a Shakespeare scholar to enjoy it. This year's show, I felt, was a bit muddled, and didn't have as strong a story as previous years. Still worth seeing, though.

Then went to see "Tilda Swinton: In Person", an excellent session. Hannah McGill interviewed Tilda Swinton about her career to date, both as an actress and as a producer whose involvement can get films off the ground. She's very keen to use her influence to get films made when she believes in them and the person behind them, whether that's appearing in it, as she did for Mike Mills and "Thumbsucker", or just lending her name and address book! Her advice for indie film-makers - "make friends with chaos".

Next, my first film of this festival, "In Search of A Midnight Kiss", written and directed by Alex Holdridge and produced by Seth Caplan, both of whom were present for a Q&A afterwards. I really liked this film, it could well end up being one of my favourites this year. It's a romantic comedy, but a very real one, with flawed but endearing lead characters who are slightly strange but ultimately much more real than the usual romcom leads. It's set in LA, on New Year's Eve, a night of great pressure to get to a kiss, because that's what everyone else is doing and that's what you're supposed to do. The Q&A afterwards was brief but good - essentially, it's very much written from experience, and was filmed guerilla style with a tiny crew and close-knit group of friends in the cast. I chatted to Alex and Seth for a while afterwards, and Alex's view about being a writer/director is that it's basically the way to go - certainly if you want things to happen as a writer, and want to retain some sort of control over your work, write something you can direct quickly and cheaply, then get on with it. Good approach, good film - go and see it if you get the chance.

Then to a Bird's Eye View party for the launch of the "First Weekenders Club" - this is an initiative to support female directors in particular, because of the pressure on first weekend box office figures in terms of measuring a film's success. The idea is to go to the cinema on the first weekend of a female-directed film's release, and Bird's Eye will be emailing everyone on their mailing list to tell them when films directed by women are coming out. I kind of agree with the initiative, because apparently only 7% of film directors are women, in the USA and UK at least, although I think this kind of initiative could apply to independent films generally, which struggle to get distribution and enough screens whoever they're directed by.

And then, zipped out to Cineworld to the Gala premiere of "Sparkle", written and directed by Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter, who made "Lawless Heart" which is one of my favourite films. Again, another film that if simple genre labels were being applied might be called romantic comedy, because its funny and its got romance in it, but its about much more than that - how people relate in families, the effects of secrets and lies on relationships. Great performances by Shaun Evans and Amanda Ryan, as well as Bob Hoskins, Stockard Channing and Lesley Manville. Another film well worth seeing, if it gets distribution.

And now I'm going to bed. Another full day tomorrow, if my "hit the delegate desk early" plan comes to fruition.


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