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Edinburgh: The Story So Far...

Festival hits halfway point

When the weekend’s US box office figures arrived, putting Superbad at the top of the heap, you could imagine its producer Judd Apatow and writer-actor Seth Rogan celebrating by sipping champagne cocktails in a Beverley Hills swimming pool. Instead they were both working their socks off at Sunday’s gala screening of Knocked Up at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Joined on the red carpet by actress Leslie Mann, Rogan and Apatow enjoyed their double success by soaking up the applause for their pregnancy comedy. Earlier in the day, Apatow had shared writing tips and industry anecdotes during a live audience Q&A session that also covered his earlier work on The Larry Sanders Show, Freaks And Geeks, Anchorman and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

The presence of Knocked Up at Edinburgh proves that this particular festival is loosening up compared to recent years. Not that there isn’t a place for quality Hollywood movies under the festival banner, particularly at this long-running Scottish institution. In previous years, George Romero’s The Crazies, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Manhattan, and John Carpenter’s Escape From New York haven’t merely been screened, but actually filled the prestigious opening night slot. Further proof of accessible but no-less-classy programming was evident in this year’s screenings of Ratatouille, Death Proof and Day Watch.

Elsewhere John Waters: This Filthy World, a recording of the Pope of Trash’s solo live show, gave Knocked Up a run for its money in the hilarity stakes. The UK Premiere of A Mighty Heart on Saturday provided a superior acting platform for Angelina Jolie as the wife of murdered US journalist Daniel Pearl, although not everyone agreed that director Michael Winterbottom managed to weave her personal story into a wider indictment of our terrorist-troubled times. Control, an intense black-and-white biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, hit the right notes with critics and audiences alike (and provided a poignant moment of remembrance for the late Factory Records boss, Tony Wilson). Another strong British entry in the line-up was Gaelic-language feature Seachd, a rich tapestry of history, myth and personal tragedy set against the magnificent mountainous landscapes of Skye – a scenic rival to Lord Of The Rings right here on the festival’s doorstop.

Personally speaking, foreign-language favourites have included rousing Hungarian Resistance tale Children Of Glory, with screenwriter Joe Ezsterhas returning to his homeland to prove that anything Paul Verhoeven can do in Black Book, he can do better. Top subtitled choice so far is The Italian, the tremendously moving, eye-opening story of a five-year-old Russian orphan trying to find his mother. On the documentary front, Crazy Love tells the bizarre life stories of a disgraced lawyer and the woman he blinded with acid – but who married him all the same. Arguably the most important film in Edinburgh’s rock-solid documentary line-up is Strange Culture, a semi-dramatised account of the FBI’s hounding of American artist Steve Kurtz, who was accused of bio-terrorism when bacteria was found in his house after the sudden (unrelated) death of his wife. As a portrait of how the US government is currently exploiting the climate of fear in order to censor critical voices in science, education and the arts, Strange Culture takes some beating. Let’s hope there’s more like it before the Edinburgh Film Festival finishes on Sunday.