Top Picks from the 2017 Edinburgh International Film Festival

04 Jul 2017 in Film Features

8 mins
God's Own Country
God's Own Country

Once again, Edinburgh recently played host to filmmakers from across the world for the annual Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), allowing audiences a glimpse of some of the most exciting and challenging filmmaking being made in Britain and beyond. As well as the quality of films being shown, the festival is renowned for its warm atmosphere and the enthusiasm of local audiences, eager to see an alternative to what is traditionally on offer at their local multiplex. From modestly-budgeted first features to more glossily-made fare, many of the films on show were notable for exploring contemporary issues around identity and wellbeing in ways that felt intensely personal but that would also resonate to wider audiences.

Our expert Film Curator Joe was on hand to pick out some highlights from this year's EIFF, while young reporter Gabriel (17) was on hand to conduct interviews, and offered his thoughts on Pixar's Cars 3, which saw its UK premiere at the festival.

Just Charlie 

Intelligently and sensitively exploring teenage gender-identity, Just Charlie was one of the most moving films of the festival. Charlie is 14 and a promising football star, but believes he is trapped in the wrong body. Starting to dress in typically female clothing, Charlie's actions have an impact on all of his family and peers, but the film tackles this with insight and compassion, understanding that for many people, transgender issues can be a complicated and misunderstood subject matter. Also commendable is the filmmaker's decision to challenge stereotypes, without ever seeming contrived. At the film's heart is an immensely moving performance from Harry Gilby, capturing Charlie's bravery and emotional conflict with real maturity. This is a film made with sincere understanding of young audiences and how to broach complex material to them.

The Farthest 

The Farthest is an inspiring documentary about arguably one of humanity's greatest achievements: the Voyager space mission, which in 2012 became the first manmade object to leave our solar system and head into interstellar space. Launching nearly forty years earlier, the Voyager captured images of other planets in unprecedented, genuinely awe-inspiring detail. Contained within it are a "golden record", which includes iconic musical recordings, and a series of 100 images designed to encapsulate humanity and life on earth for whomever may one-day stumble across it. The film encourages you to ask what you might include, and provides a powerful statement on Earth's fragility and our collective responsibility to protect it.

Our reporter Gabriel spoke to The Farthest director Emer Reynolds about the film, as she discussed what drew her to the story of the Voyager probe, her film's use of archive footage, and offered advice to budding young filmmakers. Reynolds also talked about the modern suspicion of science that exists in some corners, the beauty of discovery and the power of not knowing - but wanting to!

Julius Caesar 

This version of an acclaimed 2012 all-female stage production of Shakespeare's historical play is both riveting and provocative. Filming the stage show (complete with a live audience in shot the entire time), but with an intense cinematic feel, Julius Caesar raises interesting questions about the line between theatre and film. What really matters, however, is the storytelling, which is utterly gripping. Set within the confines of a female prison, and including former inmates as part of the production crew, it contends that Shakespeare's play remains as relevant now as it has ever been, and some unexpected cutaways from the text into the real world are both audacious and inspired. The cumulative effect is to illuminate a classic text in all new ways.

Little Bird's Big Adventure 

Richard is a sparrow, but has been brought up a stork by his adoptive family. When the time comes for the birds to migrate south, Richard is left behind. In order to prove to everyone that he really is a stork, he sets out to follow them across Europe, with some new friends in tow to help him, including a wise old night owl (and their imaginary friend) and a disco-diva parakeet. Valuable lessons about friendship and family are learned along the way, and the story acts as a gentle introduction for young audiences to the lives of our feathered friends, which can be expanded on with documentaries such as Winged Migration.

My Pure Land 

Another debut feature - this time by award-winning short filmmaker Sarmad Masud - this powerful drama tells the true story of a land-dispute in rural Pakistan, and the often violent battle a group of young women were forced to engage in to protect their home from land-grabbing uncles. Much of the film plays out like a Western, with tense scenes of gunfire throughout, but the story is also an emotive one, particularly when dealing with the appalling treatment inflicted on the women's father at the hands of local police. The film vividly captures life in a remote part of the world and is certain to engage audiences familiar with the likes of Mustang or Timbuktu.

God's Own Country 

Opening this year's festival was this beautiful debut film from director Francis Lee, telling the story of a subdued Yorkshire farmer who begins a passionate love affair with a Romanian man hired to help work on his land. Critically acclaimed and described by many as a 'Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain', the film is undoubtedly influenced by that seminal text, but has a raw intensity all of its own, and an electric - often unspoken - chemistry between its two leads. It also captures the challenges of farming in acute, unflinching detail, adding to an increasing trend in British cinema to tell more rural-set stories that challenge preconceptions about daily life, and reinforces a sense that this is something of a golden period for LGBT cinema.

Freak Show 

This is a fun comedy drama about Billy, a fabulous fashionista joining a new, rather conservative high school and resolving to run for homecoming queen in defiant response to his severe bullying. Anchored by an excellent no-holds-barred central performance from rising star Alex Lawther, the film takes inspiration from the likes of Mean Girls and The Perks of Being A Wallflower, adding a more central LGBT slant. Although the film's supporting characters are not given the space to develop as substantially as Billy, the film nevertheless contains powerful and passionate messages about celebrating diversity, not allowing others to define your identity, and having the confidence to express who you are.

Edie 

Legendary actress Sheila Hancock receives a welcome lead role in this warm and engaging film about an elderly woman who sets out to fulfil a lifelong ambition to climb one of Scotland's most demanding mountains. Striking up a friendship with Jonny, a young man who attempts to act as her guide (much to her annoyance), Edie's adventures are at once funny, frightening, and fulfilling. At its heart is the central relationship between two stubborn characters, who bicker often, but come to rely on and trust each other in ways neither could have expected. This crowd-pleaser celebrates inter-generational friendship and shouts loudly to never listen to somebody telling you that you can't do something, but equally, to be willing to accept help when needed.

Cars 3 - by Gabriel

Cars 3 almost follows the typical storyline you expect. McQueen is no longer the fastest and has to build himself to beat new rivals. While stereotypical, the final race plays differently to expected, but I will leave out details to maintain surprise.

Armie Hammer seems underused as Jackson Storm, but is a good antagonist to McQueen, replicating McQueen's attitude from the first Cars, creating a nice parallel. Cristela Alonzo shines as Cruz Ramirez, providing comedy throughout the film, but also a very relatable character: big credit to the voice acting. Explored is the theme of mentorship, calling back a lot to Doc Hudson and his training of Lighting, especially since Doc's own mentor appears here also. It reminded me of Star Wars, the master, mentor and apprentice approach, and was pulled off very well. It explores different environments, offering various locations that all looked visually good. Overall, a great family film.

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