FADED REFLECTIONS AND CONTEMPORARY PROJECTIONS: THE 57TH ANNUAL EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

SOME RANDOM VAGUELY AMUSING DRINKING STORIES TO SAVE YOU FROM THE BOREDOM OF WADING THROUGH INTERMINABLE ILL-INFORMED HALF-FORMED FILM REVIEWS BEFORE WE GET TO THE SCOTTISH FILMS SEGMENT WHICH WILL END THIS OVERLONG ARTICLE (YOU’LL NO DOUBT BE GLAD TO KNOW)…
Okay. So what would a festival be without scamming as much free beer as possible? Intolerable, right? Right. I mean, who ultimately cares all that much about films, right? Right. So, in time-dishonored Film Threat tradition…
I went to this interesting seminar on Danish/Scottish film co-production (more on which later), because a film at the festival, “Wilbur (Wants To Kill Himself)”, was co-produced by these two countries. To be perfectly honest, I only went because it said that there was gonna be a free drinks bash after the event. Me mercenary? Nah. I have always had an interest in the finer points of cultivating productive filmic co-production aesthetic partnerships with small European countries. It’s just a side of myself I very rarely show in public (or private), that’s all.
So I went along to this thing at the UGC cinema and actually did find it quite interesting. I especially liked the bit when the acoustics messed up and the mics started producing this kinda weird semi-rhythmic feedback loop low howling noise that I was genuinely starting to get into (sounded a lot like Glaswegian art-rockers Mogwai) before they fixed it. The filmmakers from both countries were talking about how Denmark and Scotland share a lot sensibility-wise, but that Wilbur had played as a comedy in Scotland and a drama in Denmark, so there must be a certain sensibility-disparity there, as I bemusedly pointed out. No matter. It was still a good film.
Anyway.
I went into UGC Screen 13 (clever concept: there is no screen there at all: it’s a bar: like the 19th hole of a golf course, ya dig?) after the thing, noting with disgust that they had only set aside an hour for free drinking, cruel philistine swine that they were. The beer on the bar was Carlsberg lager, of course, what with it being a Danish brew and all, and I got fired into the bevvy, standing next to the booze-horde at the bar. I talked to a coupla people and then the Danish Cultural Ambassador, who had introduced the event, came up to where I was standing. I told him that his filmmakers spoke very good English and were a credit to his country. He asked me what I did.
“I write for a top technical film magazine, but I don’t come from a technical background,” I told him, truthfully.
“Oh, I thought you might.”
“Nah. It’s just one of those things life throws at you.” I thought for a coupla seconds as he took a sip of his beer. “On a randomly related note, what did you want to be when you were growing up?”
“I wanted to be a fighter pilot, but I failed the exams.”
“So how did you end up working as a Cultural Ambassador?”
“It’s just one of those things life throws at you, like you said.”
So I’m standing there drinking and thinking hmmmm, the Danish Cultural Ambassador wanted to be a fighter pilot when he was growing up, but he didn’t make the grade, better drop the subject, not remind him of his past failures, but he seems to be doing alright these daze, musta got over it.
I stood and spoke to this extremely pleasant and cultured gentleman for a wee while longer before he wandered off. I stood at the bar, realizing time was getting on and I was gonna hafta motorvate on the drinking front if I wanted to get ripped in such a short period of time. So I started shoveling bottles down my neck (two swallows and they’re gone; not difficult). People were actually apologizing for moving me as they tried to get into the booze I was jealously guarding on the bar. I said don’t be stupid, they’re free, they’re not mine, but somehow I think they sensed my proprietary interest in the free drink and were embarrassed at having to steal them from me.
Eventually, there were seven bottles left and seven minutes to go. Everybody else had left by this point and I was standing at the bar alone, sizing up my chances of finishing them all before lights out bye bye see ya time, with the coupla student youngstar barstaff egging me on. I necked three of the bottles in three minutes but was too gassed up to continue. But that meant leaving four bottles behind and, like I learned in Nam, you never leave a man behind. The manager came up.
“Any chance you could stick the caps back on these so that I could take them away?”
“No problem.”
The manager stuck caps back on the four bottles and got a black trash bag. He cut this in half with a knife, so that I wouldn’t be carrying about too big a blag-swag-bag, and put the bottles in it for me to carry out with me.
“First time I’ve ever done that,” he smiled.
“Yeah, right,” I chuckled. He was a veteran of the booze wars, he knew the score to the core, we can recognize our own. I thanked him and left, wandering along to the Filmhouse half-drunk, no particular plans but to drink the four bottles before heading back home to Falkirk. I sat at the concrete square outside the chi-chi Sheraton hotel next to the cinema and got talking to a kid there (“I say 16 but I’m really 18,” he said, and I thought shit, kid’s lying about his age at 18, that makes me feel really great at 33) with a blue afro who was rollerblading the spot with his skater friends. I gave him a beer and rambled drunkenly, recommending a few bands (Lard cos he liked Ministry and they’re just Ministry with Jello Biafra; and Foetus because he invented the industrial musical subgenre Ministry ripped off wholesale) before staggering off home.
From Danish Cultural Ambassador to blue-afro street-rollerblader in less than an hour: there’s conversational versatility for ya. Beat that one.
Other times other booze crimes. I told you earlier on I encountered a filmmaker called Duncan Nicoll several times during the festival; the festival cinema triangle is small, and you’re eventually gonna meet somebody on it whether you want to or not. I had a great laugh with Duncan. He came from a similar filmic background to me (i.e. just growing up in Scotland, watching every piece of video trash you could get yer hands on, especially horror stuff, never mind yer film school nonsense) and I could throw cheeseball trash-culture references at him (Charles Band, Lucio Fulci, etc.) that he could get, even though neither of us have all that much interest in those kinda films anymore. It’s a very rare thing to actually meet somebody at the EIFF you wanna hang about with.
So anyway. This one time we were drinking £1.53 pints in this pub called Uluru (across the road from the Filmhouse and vastly cheaper drink-price-wise) and having a good laugh just spraffing away about everything and nothing (I think Party Mong better stay in our diseased psyches forevermore, Duncan) when he told me he had to go to a short film event called Cinema Extremes run by FilmFour, who are the film division of Channel 4 over here and one of the main sponsors of the festival. I told him I’d like to go too, cos there was bound to be free booze, but he said it was ticket-only.
“No problem. I’ll just tell them that my wallet was stolen and my ticket was in it. If I can’t get in it’s no great loss. Let’s go.”
So we wandered over to this dance studio they were having the event in for some reason (I can see how drinking booze and calisthenics can come together in certain minds, fer shoor) and, as we walked up the stairs, Duncan pointed to something stuck to the wall.
“That looks like an invite.”
And he was right. The Cinema Extremities people had blue-tacked an invite to the wall just to let guests know they were in the right place. So I merely peeled the invite off the wall, threw the blue-tack on the stairs, handed it over at the door…and I was in.
Walk in the park.
Being attitude-laden working class Scots we took refuge in a corner and started slagging off the pretensions of the people there, gouging away at the free Miller and glasses of white wine (me more so than Duncan, cos he could actually gain something from this event if he networked and was lucky; I was just along for the stolen-invite ride) before I decided that I would try and help Duncan out. I went up and talked to this jaded bald guy from FilmFour before Duncan came over, me pimping his short films like crazy, talking thick media bullshit, before Duncan got the guy’s card and he walked away.
“You made me say ‘myopic aesthetic’” I said to Duncan reprovingly, chuckling, before noting the time and that there was another party on round the corner from this one at the Delegate Center just after it, for a film called “Afterlife” (review and more on which later). I said I had an invite – well, I did have one, but it was 25 miles away at home, but we should shoot round there and I’d see if I could get him in; worth a shot at least. So we shot round there and I bumped into Celia Stevenson of Scottish Screen, who was the press person who’d given me my invite to the party. I told her I didn’t have my invite, but asked if she could get me and Duncan in. She said alright. I kissed her hand. I dunno why. I was fairly drunk by this point already. But she smiled, so it was cool.
Duncan and I made our way up to the party and got fired into the free booze. I saw an actor called Kevin McKidd, who is in “Afterlife,” walk into the room. You may remember him as Tommy in “Trainspotting,” the guy who dies of AIDS. I had actually gotten drunk with him six or seven years ago in Glasgow, through a mutual friend of ours at the time, and I wondered vaguely if he would remember it, cos I nearly ended up getting beaten up by some punks that afternoon. I didn’t want anything from him, just wondered if he would recall that one time. So I walked up and asked him. He didn’t recall it. The inconsiderate bastard! I mean, who wouldn’t recall meeting somebody for a coupla hours seven years ago? Does he have the memory of a goldfish or something?
I asked him if the young actress with Down’s Syndrome (whose name I couldn’t recall, cos I was ripped) from the film was going to be at the party. He told me she was. I said she was great in the film, he agreed, and I walked off. I turned to drink after Kevin’s non-remembrance of a nonentity like me. Yeah, right, like I needed an excuse. Or even cared he couldn’t remember me. I got fired into the free drink and food, the latter of which was pretty inedible.
Festival party food always reminds me of this funny Charles Bukowski story called The Great Zen Wedding from his short story book Tales of Ordinary Madness. In it, he goes to, well, a Zen wedding, oddly enough, and they serve (in his mind) chicken cunt and minced dove assholes to the guests for scran. That is just so perfect. So I had a few weird-looking perverse poultry orifices and decided I hadta leave to get my last train home back to Falkirk. Walking out the door, I bumped into Paula Sage, the young actress I had asked McKidd about.
“Were you in ‘Afterlife’?” I asked.
She nodded, glittering eyes wide, in a vastly different world than the one to which she was accustomed, stardom knocking on her mentally impaired horizons. And I don’t mean to be condescending by saying that, it’s just…man, she is just so brilliant in that film. And there she was standing as some complete hurried stranger addressed her.
I took her hand and shook it as one of her older female relatives (I would assume) looked on with a big smile on her face. “I very much enjoyed your performance,” I said, giving her a big smile before shooting off to catch my train without even being able to wait to hear her reply.
Man, that was so cool. The lassie has Down’s Syndrome, no easy road to go in life, and she was going to be the star of that party: she was certainly the star of that film, no debate whatsoever. And I thought to myself, you know, all this is going to be so new for her, she will not be cynical about it, either before or after it, she is no jaded media type, and she deserves all the fame and adulation and attention she gets, this will probably be one of the best – if not the best – nights of her life, and she looks so gorgeous in her party dress, and good luck to the wee doll, she is totally amazing in that film.
Sometimes life hands the right people the right platform at the right time. And Paula Sage is a born star. Now. I could say in an ideal world that she will go on to star in other films. And she may well do so. However, we do not live in an ideal world, and there is never going to be much of a market for a girl with Down’s Syndrome in a film, no matter how good an actress she is. But she got her night in the limelight that night as a bona fide star…and how many of us ever get even that?
And I think we all know the answer to that one.
The story continues in part nine of FADED REFLECTIONS AND CONTEMPORARY PROJECTIONS: THE 57TH ANNUAL EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL>>>

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Posted on August 29, 2003 in Festivals by
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