Brave looks to put heart back into film festival

The heroine Merida is voiced by Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald

The heroine Merida is voiced by Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald

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‘I WANT my freedom!”

The words from the lips of the flame-haired young woman ring round the auditorium . . . and set Alex Salmond’s eyes twinkling. Could Merida, the latest animated heroine from the studios of Disney-Pixar, become the poster girl for his party’s referendum campaign?

She’s certainly got the looks, but unlike Mel Gibson’s William Wallace she’s only demanding independence from her parents. The F-word declared in a strong Scottish accent certainly has the power to provoke nationalistic tendencies – and make the First Minister, rapt with attention as he watches exclusive clips of the as yet unseen, movie, break into a smile.

First Minister Alex Salmond is hoping Brave will boost Scotland's tourism sector

First Minister Alex Salmond is hoping Brave will boost Scotland's tourism sector

But right now Merida – and her film Brave – are just expected to be a major boost to Scottish tourism when the film is released internationally this summer. Closer to home it’s also hoped that she will rejuvenate Edinburgh’s ailing International Film Festival for, as Mr Salmond announced yesterday in Perth’s Concert Hall, the glittering premiere of Brave will be the closing-night gala event this June.

There’s a lot resting then on the shoulders of a cartoon girl with wild, radioactive-orange curls and large green eyes, who prefers the forest to her castle and who’s rather good with a bow and arrow.

“There are inestimable benefits to Edinburgh with this premiere,” says Mr Salmond. “The Edinburgh International Film Festival is historically a great success and while there have been one or two issues of late, this is a huge movie to have closing this year’s festival. It also shows the importance of investment in Edinburgh Festival Theatre as now we have a venue which can stage a film premiere with a film which is as advanced as this one is.

“It re-establishes Edinburgh as a major movie premiere venue and the world’s eyes will be on the city. It’s also the biggest film which has ever been premiered in Edinburgh – it is three times the size of Braveheart in budget terms and Disney-Pixar have never made a movie which hasn’t gone into the top 20 in box office takings, so this is huge stuff.”

It certainly is for the film festival. From around 1995 it had a decade or so of attracting major Hollywood stars, from Catherine Zeta Jones and Sean Connery to Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller, Sean Penn and Heather Graham to Liam Neeson and America Ferrera, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman to Charlize Theron and Gabriel Byrne . . . the cast list of Hollywood and British film stars attending was impressive.

In 1999 when Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo stepped through the doors of the Odeon in South Clerk Street for the UK premiere of The Thomas Crown Affair, the then-director, Lizzie Francke, said that it had indeed reached a turning point as film companies were approaching the festival to be included rather than the other way round.

Yet in the last few years the festival drifted back to its more art house roots, finance has been hard to get, and a move from August to June proved controversial. Last year’s festival was ultimately branded a “flop”.

So attracting the multi-million-pound Brave which stars Pixar’s – if not Disney’s – first animated heroine, is a major boost to the event’s 2012 programme. A red carpet event with Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane and Billy Connolly won’t hurt either.

“We’re delighted to host the premiere of Brave and continue the festival’s long relationship with Disney,” says film festival director Chris Fujiwara. “Though we are an international film festival we’re mindful that we have a special responsibility to Scotland’s cinematic image. It makes perfect sense that this film, which is so strongly tied to the cultural mythology of Scotland and the beauty of the Scottish landscape, and in which Scottish talent has such a significant involvement, should be part of our festival.”

The Festival Theatre is also delighted to play host. It benefited from a £245,000 funding boost from the Scottish Government two years ago to install state-of-the-art digital cinema facilities and become a 1600-seat venue, giving it the capacity to host major film premieres.

A theatre spokesman says: “To present the European premiere of Disney-Pixar’s eagerly anticipated new fairytale animation, Brave is a major coup for the Festival Theatre and we are delighted to continue our relationship with the Edinburgh International Film Festival as we host 2012’s closing film.

“In previous years we have welcomed such Scottish luminaries as Sir Sean Connery and we hope this year to roll out the red carpet to some of Britain’s best talent in what will truly be an all-star affair.”

Work on Brave began in 2005, but just why Disney-Pixar alighted on Scotland as a setting is now as lost in the mists of time as some of the origins of the myths retold in the movie.

Set in the 10th century, the successor to Gibson’s William Wallace in Braveheart is a redhead Scottish princess named Merida, who is pretty handy with a bow and arrow, but whose parents want to be more ladylike and get hitched. In the best tradition of Disney historical adventures, she lives in a mythical Scotland where ghostly blue lights, will-o’-the-wisps, lead her to a witch’s cottage and possibly to her doom.

The ensuing perils force Merida to discover the true meaning of bravery to undo a curse before it’s too late. An allegory perhaps for modern day Scotland?

The First Minister laughs at the suggestion. “This is not political, it’s about promotion – promoting Scotland – and who wouldn’t want to get behind that?

“The co-operation between Disney and VisitScotland and all others involved in bringing the premiere to Edinburgh and the spin-offs we hope to gain in terms of tourism, has really been pleasing. It’s a real first for them [Disney] but we hope that by working together this will be a massive opportunity in terms of promoting Scotland internationally. We hope people love the film and then love Scotland when they visit.

“We had early knowledge about the film and there have been talks ongoing for some considerable time about its promotion, and Scotland’s promotion. The Scottish Government will invest £7 million in total through VisitScotland in promotional activities to Brave and £4m of this will support campaigns in major international tourism markets such as North America, Spain, Germany, Italy and France.”

The American premiere of the film will take place just a week before the Edinburgh launch on June 30, and it’s expected the animators will also be in the city for the event. They took two field trips to Scotland to ensure they caught the landscape and weather perfectly before beginning the movie – including visits to The Witchery, the Royal Mile and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo as well as the Highlands, Skye and Lewis.

“Without doubt this film will bring people to Scotland, and that will mean more tourists for Edinburgh,” adds Mr Salmond. “And while I wouldn’t say this film will save the Edinburgh Film Festival, it will definitely help its renewal. The move to June for the festival has been difficult, but I believe it’s been the correct decision and allows people to focus on the film festival in itself, and Brave will help it re-establish itself as it would be very difficult to host something of this scale during the Edinburgh International Festival.”

But does Mr Salmond feel that Edinburgh itself will be able to manage more tourists, especially given the current problems with tram works? “We stepped in to put the tram project back on track. Everyone knows I was one of the foremost opponents of doing it but we were voted down in Parliament by the other parties who didn’t take the long view about the welfare of Edinburgh citizens, but having started it and spending the money we could not have left it unfinished.

“But that’s all in the past and we have to finish it and see the benefits it will bring to the city. In the meantime, while the work is happening, we can’t forget that Edinburgh is still a majestic city. As residents we look at the holes in the roads, but the people who visit just see its majesty and the people who will love Brave, will love coming to Scotland and to Edinburgh.”

TALES FROM THE RED CARPET

THE red carpet at the Festival Theatre may well be graced with such stars as Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson and Kevin McKidd from the cast of Brave in June, but the city is no stranger to hosting such glitzy events.

In May 1995, Rob Roy stars Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange turned up for the premiere at the Odeon followed by a Hollywood-style party in a tented pavilion in Princes Street Gardens. And in 1999 Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo attended the premiere of the Thomas Crown Affair also at the Clerk Street cinema, followed by a star-studded bash in the National Museum of Scotland. The same year saw Catherine Zeta Jones – along with her husband Michael Douglas – and Sean Connery take to the Odeon’s red carpet for the premiere of Entrapment with an after-screening party at the Prestonfield House Hotel.