Edinburgh International Film Festival

There are still a few days left to enjoy the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where I’ve been volunteering this past week or so.  It has been terrific to be part of the team and of the buzz around town – and great to get out and see films as they were intended, i.e. at the cinema instead of on my 12″ laptop.  The Festival headquarters is at Filmhouse but it has spilled out into the Odeon, CineWorld and the Festival Theatre, where screenings are also taking place. I’ve managed to see quite a variety of films in several different languages – from contemporary US animation to a Polish bio-pic.  It has been a truly international experience, not only through the films but also through the people attending  - including amongst my volunteer colleagues, which has added greatly to the enjoyment.  

It is such a treat to immerse oneself in a particular art form and this Festival has without a doubt lived up to the definition of cinema being the “Seventh Art”.  At the turn of the 20th century, the Italian film theoretician, Ricciotto Canudo, categorised cinema as the 7th because he saw it as the coalescing of three rhythmic arts – music, dance and poetry – and of three plastic arts – architecture, sculpture and painting.  And at this Festival the films have encompassed all of those, through subject matter as well as through the medium of film itself.  

Looking back over the films I’ve seen, the one that has stayed with me, as if in accord with its title, is “Afterimage” (Powidoki) by the late Polish director, Andrzej Wajda, about his compatriot, the artist, Wladyslaw Strzemiński.  In my ignorance, I knew nothing about this painter but through the film, and some research later, I learn that he was, amongst other things, a pioneer of what was known as the Constructivist avant-garde of the 1920′s and 30′s.  The title of the film comes from a series of paintings he made, referred to as “afterimages of light.” These works record optical impressions caused by looking at the sun.  The film also highlighted that his estranged wife, Katarzyna Kobro, is one of the most esteemed sculptors of the inter-war years.  That’s one of the best aspects of a film like this – that it leads one to a part of history one might never have otherwise found.  Strzemiński’s life turned out to be terribly hard after he fell out of favour with the State in 1950 for failing to comply with the Socialist doctrine for Realist art.  The theme of independence of the artist against institutional pressures is clearly one that the Director, Wajda, held close to his heart.  It was the only one of the public film screenings I attended where there was a spontaneous round of applause at the end, i.e. it didn’t need the presence of anyone involved in the making of the film for the audience to show its pleasure.