Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Edinburgh Film Festival Diaries
Edinburgh Diary - Day 14

by Christine Harris-Smyth

Today begins with one of those incredible Edinburgh opportunities. It is possible to observe the jury process for the "Michael Powell Award" which is given to the director of the best British feature. It must be remembered that films already on commercial release don't get into the festival so Mike Leigh's "Secrets and Lies" and Danny Boyle's "Trainspotting" are not in the selection, while they are arguably two of the best releases of 1996.

Although no embargo was placed on press attendance, it would not be fair to attribute comments to any of the jurors. Simon Perry of British Screen is an accomplished non-voting chairman and the jury was able to knock the 12 entries down to three in the first round. The three short-listed happen to be my favorites, and for many of the same reasons as the panel's.

It is interesting to note that films were generally considered in context of genre, director's body of work, and budget. The panelists also discussed thematic trends and passed comment on the standard of work. All 12 films were directed by men, most featured strong female characters, and many involved a search for a better life. The winner was an example rather than an exception.

The jurors approach to awarding the prize reflected all that is good about the festival. There was a genuine concern for the well-being of British cinema and the individual filmmakers. At one point Simon Perry observed that a different jury would have come up with entirely different selections. This was just after one of Britain's best-known filmmakers was unanimously eliminated after lengthy discussion of his work.

The jury was interested most in authentic storytelling, emotional truth, and somewhat less in cinematic grandstanding. Could this be attributed to a fin-de-siècle sense of longing for a meaningful map of the human condition? I don't know, but "Kiss. Kiss. Bang. Bang." was certainly not welcome at the table.

I meet festival director Mark Cousins at 7 PM and we sit on a step out the back of The Filmhouse, avoiding a friendly bee, drinking champagne and talking about DEFF.

Later in the evening I will try "Cinergy", a late night multimedia cabaret that features short films, live performances, arbitrary giveaways and '90s technology.

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