Moving the dates of a film festival could be a make or break decision, as it means leaving one set of established network connections for the sake of pursuing a position within a different network.
This year, on the initiative of the newly appointed artistic director, Hannah McGill, the Edinburgh International Film Festival changed its slot on the calendar, an experience that she has described as ‘seismic‘. Part of the group of other Edinburgh festivals (such as the Fringe Festival, Book Festival, Art Festival, Jazz and Blues Festival, Military Tattoo, and so on), the film festival had traditionally been taking place in August, during the time of ‘The Festival’, a well-known slot on UK’s cultural calendar, when crowds gather to the streets of Edinburgh to enjoy the huge variety of events, organized and improvised.
Looking at the programme of the festival for the 2008, the Edinburgh IFF stands out somewhat solitary, with its new dates of June 18-29 (all other festivals are still taking place in August). It seems that on the one hand the festival is still part of the general Edinburgh Fest. On the other hand, however, it is already on its way out, it is parting with the Fest. The people who flock to Edinburgh in August will not attend it, the festival will not be able to take advantage of the crowds and solid cultural traffic. It seems that by changing the dates, the festival has put itself in a position that appears to be marginal in relation to the main event.
But has it?
I have got no data on the audience breakdown for the Edinburgh IFF, but from my experiences as attendee, I am with the impression the screenings (many of which take place in theaters that are not as centrally positioned as some other festival venues) are mainly attended by people who have come here especially for the film event (that is, not for the general fest), as well as local audiences. It does not appear that the festival would lose much by moving dates, as these two groups would be here also in June. One would need to wait and see how many viewers from among the August visitors the festival may have lost from moving the dates. It is certain, however, that by changing the dates the festival has already gained in terms of securing easier access to accommodation for its attendees.
The move of the festival dates, however, could have an impact that would go much deeper than accommodation logistics: it is a move toward repositioning the festival from being a showcase festival for recent British and international cinema to becoming a competitive festival with more weight at the international festival circuit, and thus allowing it to have a stronger impact on the global dynamics of film circulation.
Traditionally, the festival had been taking place in August, just before the festivals in Venice and Toronto. Due to the regulations, the films that would be scheduled to compete at Venice would not be screened here, as they would need to premiere at the festival in Italy. The crowd of international cineastes would choose to go to Venice rather than to Edinburgh, and those who wanted to attend a showcase type of festival would often opt to go to Toronto.
By moving the festival to June, it is now positioned to acquire a much more integrated position within the global network of key film festivals. Thus while it may seem that the Edinburgh IFF is becoming the ‘weakest link’ in the context of the Edinburgh Fest, in fact it is a move toward becoming a strong node in another network, one of greater magnitude, and one which, arguably, could be more consequential.
If we look at the global festival calendar, we have two important events, Rotterdam and Berlinale, scheduled quite tightly next to each other (late January-early February). It seems that the two events would kill each other, and the relationship has been more like rubbing shoulders: the scheduling seems to have worked well over the years as many of the important attendees who go to Rotterdam also go to Berlin, especially those who have come from Asia or Latin America for a session on what I call the ‘festival treadmill’. In the context of the early summer festival calendar, the new slot for Edinburgh may prove particularly beneficial. Coming about a month after Cannes, the festival may be able to absorb the films that were not finished in time for Cannes but do not want to wait until Venice opens. This, of course, will be taking place in competition with A-category festivals such as Karlovy Vary and Locarno, who occupy sleepy summer slots in mid-July and early August, and who are always on the outlook for quality product for their own premiere needs (the ‘conveyor belt’ of festivals, as it was aptly named by Moritz de Hadeln). There may be other benefits to the Edinburgh cinema event that I am not able to foresee at the moment. Depending on how the move is played out, it could substantially reposition the festival. Then the Edinburgh IFF will no longer be referred to just as one of the oldest film festivals in the world but also as one that has a real clout on the global festival circuit.
To read the other parts of this essay, on issues of the festival calendar/cycle in relation to the network of ’cause-promoting’ film festivals and ‘latecomer’ festivals, click on the respective links.
© Dina Iordanova
18 June 2008