It's only the first full day of the festival proper and already my schedule has gone to hell in the proverbial handcart. Up with the lark - or, frankly, since I live in Leith, the seagull - I headed up to Cineworld to catch Thanks Maa. Although some people have been comparing this film to Slumdog Millionaire, although walking some of the same terrain it really is a very different animal, with a lot more grit and a lot less froth. It puts the lives of streetkids in the spotlight, particularly focusing on those who are abandoned, as a young boy finds a baby left on the street and tries desperately, against the unforgiving backdrop of Mumbai, to reunite him with his mother. Although this is, in many ways a shocking portayal of life for many children, there is also a sweetness running through the narrative - and the two-hour runtime flies by.
Following the screening I made the fatal mistake of thinking I could come back home and do some writing - when Edinburgh is like an assault course at the moment thanks to tram work which means virtually every street looks as though it is being demolished. I felt even worse when, on arriving back at the ranch, I realised that I was, in fact supposed to be at a screening of Black Dynamite. Ooops. Fortunately, I made it back to town for Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold's follow up to Red Road which is every bit as excellent as its predecessor. Although initially appearing as though it will be a council estate kid realises her dreams type fairytale, this is more of an exploration of how coming of age can mean the end of dreaming. It is wonderfully shot and perfectly acted, particularly by Kate Jarvis in the central role of Mia, and by Michael Fassbender as her mother's lover who holds a fascination for the 15-year-old. Frankly, it's not possible to do this film justice in a capsule review.
I capped off the day with the world premiere screening of The Athlete (Atletu). This film mixes drama and documentary footage to tell the story of Abebe Bikila, who became an overnight sensation when he won the Olympic gold in the Rome marathon - while running barefoot. It certainly has plenty going for it, with excellent acting by Rasselas Lakew in the central role (he also co-wrote and co-directs the film) and the archive footage is put to excellent use, blending well with the central narrative. Sadly, it is let down a little by its pacing, which feels too langourous in places. Several scenes, although looking very artistic, dwell so long that the emotion of the events feels oddly stifled. That said, it's a brave film and worth a look.
Introducing the film co-director/co-writer Davey Frankel said making the film had been "an incredible journey". After it had finished, he and Lakew took questions. Speaking about the genesis of the project, Frankel said they met through a mutual friend at a tie when Lakew was already working on the story.
I ask about the archival footage - how hard it was to find and edit.
Frankel says: "The Olympics do a formal film every year and they generally commission a local filmmaker from the country. So the Olympic films are there and you can find them. Some of them are more famous than others. The Tokyo Olympiad is probably the most famous, by Kon Ichikawa. And so we basically had the films themselves and we were more or less going and begging and pleading with the Olympics because they usually sell it to State television and things like that. So it was a lot of massaging along the way. It was an amazing process too, because you go back to these old films and people have no idea who owns what. The production companies are all gone and the people who made them are no longer around so it gets tricky."
Since Frankel doesn't speak Amharic, he says: "For me it was very much about getting the emotion out. Setting it all up, doing the takes, and then I'd say: 'Rass? Did everyone say everything correctly?' And if Rass gave me the okay, I was, like, 'all right, let's get on with the next set up."
Talking about shooting the film in Africa he adds: "One of my pride and joys in the film is that, to do all the driving shots, we actually built our own process trailer in a garage Addis Ababa. I came to Addis with a pencil sketch from a key grip in New York City and I went to the garage and said: 'Can we build this?' They said: 'sure.'
The whole evening reminded me of one of the best things about the Edinburgh Film Festival compared to those I go to Stateside - the intimacy. There can be few cosier venues than Filmhouse 2 and 3, and the audience gave both the film and filmmakers a deserved warm reception.
Although it's only the first full day, the press have been busy for some time. There were a few thousand yard stares visible today, and several hangovers. Someone had brought in popcorn. I wasn't sure if it was an ironic statement, but was quite confident that it was a faux pas.
One Man Village, my first film of the day, is bleak even for a film about Lebanon. It's the story of the filmmaker's uncle, who is the only man left in his village since everything was destroyed during the civil war. It's heartbreaking really. A Blooming Business, about the flower industry in Kenya, just reveals one moral outrage after another. Moon is amazing - the best science fiction film for years. But my favourite film of the festival so far is still White Lightnin', which is tempting me toward amphetamine abuse. It's deliciously unhinged. I really need to get more sleep.
The first full day of the EIFF yields precious treasures. Attending the Digital Restoration panel, I learned a great deal about how digital technology makes film restoration that much easier. The chair was headed by Nick Varley of Park Circus, and the volume of before and after comparisons beggared belief and produced audible gasps at the state of our filmic treasures.
In The Restoration of Oz, I prayed for a full-blown restoration of one of the greatest British Technicolor masterpieces, The Red Shoes - and today, I got it. Scanned at 4k (four thousand lines per frame) resolution, cleaned and then colours recombined digitally, the results of this new print were simply spectacular. Those incredible pure Technicolor hues combined with a level of detail I have never before seen was a joy. It is to be seen by all those who love movies - and the 17 minute ballet sequence may be my favourite minutes in all of moviedom. I walked out giddy with joy. A full review and write up on digital restoration is coming soon.
On the film front, my favourite film of the day is Edinburgh-based Matt Hulse's Follow The Master - a road movie of the kind I have never seen. In tribute to his late grandfather, Hulse goes on a pilgrimage on the South Downs Way. In cahoots is his girlfriend Lucy and the unspeakably adorable dog, Tippy. The film is a minor masterpiece - needing only a little more work for me to consider it one of the year's best.