Things Special: Edinburgh International Film Festival

I went to the Edinburgh International Film Festival and saw a whole bunch of films, which I enjoyed so much I am amazed it took me this long to work out that this is exactly the kind of thing I should do with holiday time.

Here’s my shortlist of the most interesting films that I saw. Some of these will see wider release in the near future, whereas others you will only hear of again in 13 years time when they pop up as a result of some Byzantine algorithm as a recommendation to you on some presently incomprehensible video-on-demand offering with a staggering range of content, at which point the title will sound very vaguely familiar to you and you will dimly remember the things about it which you are about to read here, and hopefully that will be enough to make you take the plunge. I hope you enjoy it.

Well, actually some of these are short animations which you can watch right now on the internet, so there’s a short term gain to reading the following too.

The Illusionist
: Animated adaptation of an unmade Jaques Tati script by Silvain Chomet, the man behind Belleville Rendez-vous
Good: Superbly captures the beauty of Scotland in general and Edinburgh in particular, with sublime hand-drawn character animation and deft characterisation
Bad: Surprisingly loose in plot and fuzzy in storytelling
Conclusion: Absolutely worth your time for the visuals alone


What: Low budget yet well-realised alien invasion as setting for semi-romantic road movie
Good: Beautifully shot, atmospheric, with an incredibly realistic-feel for its budget and a beautifully understated soundtrack from Jon Hopkins. And giant alien octopi.
Bad: Weakness in the development of the female character betrays a male gaze bias, undermining the main dynamic of the film
Conclusion: Essential viewing for anyone interested in what can be achieved on a budget, giant alien octopi, or Whitney Able’s legs

No trailer available, but this clip gives some clues to the look and feel:

[Update – Trailer now available, see below! – Tim 8/1/16]

What: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in reverse, but as a quirky-in-a-good-way British comedy
Good: A great idea fleshed out with wonderfully convincing yet unexplained details
Bad: Slightly odd in structure, as it does not entirely succeed in erasing all trace of its short-film origins
Conclusion: If you’ve ever moaned about sequels and remakes and a dearth of new ideas, this is exactly the kind of movie that you should be watching instead.


What: EIFF sum it up perfectly: “Touching portrait of a lost friend through footage gleaned from diverse sources.”
Good: A fascinating patchwork of home video footage, photos, interviews, and scenes from entirely different movies, that combine to form a strangely affecting portrait in a way conventional methods could never reach
Bad: The film-maker’s own relationship with the subject seems self-censored, slightly undermining the sense of insight and authenticity that pervades the film
Conclusion: Mysteriously only moved me to tears about an hour after leaving the cinema, even though I thought I’d stopped thinking about it. Worth a try just to see what it does to you.

No trailer or anything, but this is the website of the film’s creator:

The Secret In their Eyes
What: Past-and-present mystery detective story, also the biggest and purportedly best film ever to come out of Argentina
Good: Just about everything about it is of the highest order, with some directorial flair that raised the hairs on the back of my neck
Bad: Ultimately doesn’t quite satisfy, although it is possible that some key elements slipped between the cracks of translation
Conclusion: Any film with so many top-notch elements deserves your attention


Short Films and Animations

I saw four showings that curated short films and animations (mainly the latter), of which a few really stood out. I was particularly satisfied to see that digital technology now seems to be doing a brilliant job of getting out of the artist’s way and just helping them create something visually intriguing – for many of the shorts I couldn’t work out what animation technique had been used, which I consider to be a great thing.

Sarah Wickens’ “What Light (Through Yonder Window Breaks)”:
Animated in a way I’ve never seen before (actually the result of a combination of techniques elegantly disclosed in the credits at the end), watch this short extract and see if you can perceive the magic behind the movement:

Stewart Comrie’s “Battenberg”:
A short animated film seemingly applying stop-motion to taxidermy to create an incredibly atmospheric encounter between a magpie and a squirrel in a doll’s house. You can view a trailer here:

David Lea and John Williams’ “Shadow Play”:
Shadow puppets combined with (what I presume must be) a digitally composed emulation of the multiplane camera creates a wonderful medium in which to tell a very silly story. You can watch the entire thing here, but from the way the site is designed I don’t think you’re supposed to be able to do so any more, so take a look now while you still can:

Bill Plymptom’s “the Cow who wanted to be a Hamburger”:
A weird, garish, jerky animation style and a purely orchestral soundtrack combine in a surprisingly wonderful way to tell a story with the energy and joy of a six-year-old


Joanna Lurie’s “Silence Beneath the Bark”:
A great example of how far CG has come since The Adventures of André and Wally B, approaching the aesthetics of natural collage. You can view a trailer and if you like what you see in the first few seconds I recommend you click to ‘view le filme entier’, which unsurprisingly enables you to see the full 11 minute animation (click the picture to start):

Marko Meštrović’s “No sleep won’t kill you”:
I can’t say I particularly understood or even enjoyed the experience of watching this, but it blew my mind in a way I won’t soon forget, and that’s something I like to experience. Watch the whole thing right here, if you can take it:

Jonas Odell’s “Tussilago”:
A variant on rotoscoping provides a distilled and and elegant way to present the harsh reality of finding yourself caught up in the kind of thing we usually only read about in the news.


[Update – Now fully available on Vimeo, see below! – Tim 8/1/16]

Angela Steffen’s “Lebensader”:
A wonderfully pure animated style, using digital tweening to achieve an amazingly smooth finish (I presume), which luckily enough you can view in its entirety right here:

Logan’s “A VOLTA”:
Blew my mind in a similar way to Tussilago: not very nice (certainly NSFW), hard on the eye and the brain, but fascinating, impactful, and dream/nightmare-like. You can watch the whole thing (or a few seconds if you just want to understand what I’m attempting to communicate) over at Boing Boing:

Finally, a couple of shorts I was very disappointed to find seem to be entirely absent from the world of internet video streaming:

Min Sung-ah’s “The Newly Coming Seasons”:
An animation in which every frame looks like a stunningly beautiful watercolour piece. You can at least see some screenshots here:

This review gets it exactly right:

[Edit – You can now view this animation on Vimeo, hooray! – Tim 8/1/2016]

Finally, Rainer Gamsjäger’s “State of Flux – wave #1”:
What looks like a continuous pan in one direction across a barrage while the water alternately flows forward and backward, which is of course impossible. Instills a strange trance as the brain struggles to comprehend both the impossibility and the beauty of what it is seeing. You can at least see some screenshots to get a rough idea of it, but there is no substitute for the moving image, so if you ever have an opportunity to see it then do so. Or just wait for it to pop up out of nowhere in 13 years time.

[Update – You can now watch a minute of it on Vimeo! – Tim 8/1/16]

5 replies on “Things Special: Edinburgh International Film Festival”

Wow, thanks for sharing! A lot of great-sounding stuff there.

Bizarre synchronicity note: last night I met up with some old school friends and we were considering whether Jon Hopkins (Monsters soundtrack) is the only person from our school year who is doing anything outstanding.

[…] As I noted after Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010, the great thing about short animations is that in many cases you can subsequently find them online. So after watching more short animations in one weekend than I had previously seen in my entire life, It seemed like a good idea to bring together a few of my favourites. […]

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