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5 Films to See: Edinburgh International Film Festival 2023

The Edinburgh International Film Festival is back. Despite worrying events last autumn when the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI), the charity that runs the festival, appointed administrators, the EIFF returns this year in August. The scaled-down “special one-year edition,” is curated by new programme director Kate Taylor. It will run for six days, featuring new and inspiring works of global and local filmmakers. EIFF is planned to be back to full strength in 2024, yet even this boutique edition has much to offer. Here are five films we recommend watching:

Silent Roar

The EIFF has – as it should be – always been a strong supporter of original Scottish cinema. In the past, films like the Oscar-nominated Aftersun, Calibre and Get Duked! have all played there. This year, it’s the turn of Johnny Barrington to present his debut film Silent Roar, a Scottish-set surf comedy filmed entirely in the awe-inspiring Hebridean landscape. Louis McCartney stars as Dondo, a teenage surfer living on the Isle of Lewis who has yet to process the loss of his father when he starts experiencing cosmic visions. Wetsuits at the ready – this is going to be a ride.  

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Directed by first-time filmmakers Sam H. Freeman and No Chong Ping, Femme unspooled in the Panorama strand of the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, landing with a huge impact. 1917 star George Mackay gives a characteristically bold performance as Preston, an ex-con who hides his true sexuality beneath his macho bluster. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Misfits, Utopia) co-stars as Jules, a victim of a homophobic attack instigated by Preston. What follows is a grippingly unpredictable tale, looking at sexuality, control, power and revenge.

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Showing Up

American director Kelly Reichardt’s latest first premiered in competition in Cannes in 2022, and has still to find UK distribution, so here is an excellent chance to catch it on the big screen. It sees Reichardt reunite with her long-time collaborator Michelle Williams (Wendy and Lucy, Certain Women) who plays Lizzy, a struggling sculptor juggling both her art, her financial commitments and her family life. Hong Chau co-stars as her flaky landlady and fellow artist, Jo. But the real draw here is watching a film that takes the realities of an artistic life seriously.

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Choose Irvine Welsh

Not before time, author Irvine Welsh has been granted his own documentary portrait. The creator of Filth, The Acid House and the cultural phenomenonTrainspotting, is a masterful raconteur and director Ian Jefferies sets out to capture Welsh’s incredible journey from his early years in Leith onwards. Admirers including musical icons Iggy Pop and Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, as well as Trainspotting director Danny Boyle, pay tribute, but Welsh – as you’d expect – takes centre stage.

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The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Gothic 19th Century novel gets a fascinating makeover courtesy of British filmmaker Hope Dickson Leach (The Levelling), who relocates this macabre tale to Edinburgh. Originally created as a live hybrid performance with the National Theatre of Scotland, it’s now been edited into film form – which makes it perfect for an unveiling at the EIFF. Featuring David Hayman, the veteran actor who recently wowed us in Paul Andrew Williams’ thriller Bull, this is a chilling story given a fresh and new reinvention.

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Edinburgh International Film Festival | 18-23 August

Words: James Mottram