Our Top 8 films from the 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival

28 Jun 2016 BY Joe Ursell

8 mins
My Feral Heart EIFF Interview
My Feral Heart EIFF Interview

Celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2016, the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) has long established itself as one of the most dynamic and vibrant film festivals on the calendar. With a strong youth focus -  including a young programmers project - it is also one of the friendliest and most accessible, providing an opportunity for filmmakers and audiences to come together as a community.

The best thing about film festivals is how audiences are so spoilt for choice about the films they seek out, with unique opportunities to experience fresh, challenging and innovative cinema from around the world, offering new perspectives and raising challenging questions. 

Here are some of our highlights from this year's EIFF.

BUGS (14+)

The nutritional benefits of eating insects have long been proven, and they remain a delicacy in many countries. However, the squeamishness factor means that the idea is yet to really catch on with most of the western world. In this documentary, Scottish chef Ben Reade and his American colleague Josh Evans, from the Nordic Food Lab in Denmark, set off around the world to sample and devise insect-related recipes, including grasshopper ravioli, maggot cheese gelato, and other such delicious treats. The results are not only tasty, straightforward and sustainable, but - as Ben and Josh discover - also susceptible to the vested interests of big business. But with the world's population predicted to hit 9 billion by 2040, it may well be that we all have to look increasingly at creatures in the ground to ensure there is enough food to go round.

Young reporter Kaylum interviewed chef Craig Macfarlane, co-Founder of Bugs for Life, a charity that targets malnutrition with edible insects. Craig also farms insects in Edinburgh, and brought along some mealworm pakoras for Kaylum to dig into...

Zero Days (14+)

Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney returns with this chilling investigation into contemporary geopolitics and the increased (but submerged) practice of cyber-terrorism. Constructed like a Bourne-style thriller, the film is at times rather impenetrable, but as time goes on the viewer realises that this is, in some way, deliberate. As Gibney probes further, it becomes increasingly clear that cyber warfare is a terrifying new reality that the world must come to terms with, presenting unique challenges and a space that is almost impossible to police. But given that so many refuse to talk to Gibney in person, or even acknowledge the existence of certain apparently irrefutable facts, a plan of action looks a disturbingly long way off.

The Canterville Ghost (7+)

A colourful, silly, and very funny French comedy, Oscar Wilde's legendary short story of a family moving to a haunted castle is given a fresh 21st century update, with Tim Burton style gothic gruesomeness and lots of references to the worlds of blogging, vlogging and app development. Utterly bonkers and with an understanding that there is always something funny about rubbish ghosts that just aren't scary (no matter how hard they try) this is an accessible, breezy film for younger audiences, with plenty of fun visual gags to help them through any initial language barriers.

Brothers (14+)

Perhaps taking inspiration from Michael Apted's seminal Seven-Up! series of documentaries, Norwegian director Aslaug Holm decided to film her two boys Markus and Lukas as they grew-up. Shot over an eight-year period (and thus inevitably inviting comparisons to the fictional Boyhood) the result is a beautiful, insightful and often extremely funny chronicle of childhood, as we see Markus and Lukas mature before our eyes. The film's often warts-and-all approach raises fascinating questions around the ethics of the project, as scenes of playing football, first rock bands and first earrings are interspersed with remarkably candid musings from the filmmaker and the boys themselves about their lives and their attitude to the camera. Above all, this remarkable documentary is an insightful and poignant portrait of sibling-hood, and the gradual forming of identity.

Young reporter Kaylum interviewed Brothers director Auslag Holm about making her film.

The Shamer's Daughter (11+)

This Danish language fantasy adventure will delight any young fans of Tolkien or Harry Potter. The first in a trilogy, the film refreshingly places a young girl at the centre of its narrative, as she faces up to her supernatural abilities while fighting off dragons and the evil intentions of a man seeking to murderously claim the throne of the fictional Danek. Ending on a dramatic cliffhanger, the film will have young audiences eagerly anticipating the next instalment! 

Viva (14+)

Teenager Jesus is a hairdresser subsidising his income by tending to the wigs of the performers of a Havana drag club - but he really dreams of performing on stage himself. As he takes some tentative steps towards this, his plans are interrupted when his estranged former boxer father is released from prison. Initially violently dismissive of his son's world, the pair slowly get to know each other and forge an understanding. This is a beautifully judged film, full of emotion and proudly melodramatic at times, but also documenting the realities of life in poverty amidst Cuban slums. Full of terrific performances, particularly Héctor Medina as Jesus/Viva, the film does not sugarcoat its squalid, often seedy setting, but presents a vibrant, defiant ode to the power of personal expression and identity.

Ithaca (11+)

Meg Ryan makes her directorial debut in this old-school yet sincere World War Two drama, bringing along old pal Tom Hanks for a supportive cameo. The story focuses on 14-year old Homer, who takes on a job as a telegram messenger in his rural hometown, while his older brother is away fighting. However, Homer soon finds himself handing over tragic announcements, as events overseas filter back to loved ones at home. With an eye-catching lead performance from Alex Neustaedter, who looks destined for big things, the film is romanticised and arguably puts forward a sentimentalised version of America that never existed, but is also an affecting account of discovering that the world might not be what you think it is. 

My Feral Heart (14+)

Luke is an independent young man with Down Syndrome, looking after his frail mother at home. But when she unexpectedly passes away, Luke is forced into the daunting new environment of a care home. Initially reluctant to accept help and engage with others, Luke gradually bonds with some of the other residents, forging friendships with his outgoing carer and a troubled young man doing community service on the grounds. This is a gentle and remarkably warm-hearted British independent film, with fantastic performances across the board and genuine chemistry amongst its cast. Carefully and cleverly avoiding becoming an 'issue film', it instead contains lessons for all of us around facing up to the past (and future), the value of community, and accepting the help of others. A perceptive, funny drama that deserves to be seen; Luke is a fabulously cheeky screen presence.

Young reporter Abbie interviewed My Feral Heart actor, Steven Brandon, and the film's producer James Rumsey.

Portrait picture of Joe Ursell

Joe Ursell, Film Curator

Joe has a BA in Film & American Studies from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures from King's College London. He has worked with the BFI London Film Festival and on the production of ITV documentary 56 Up.

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