HIS only previous visit here was to shoot a mobile phone advert. Now one of America’s leading young film-makers has found himself in the glare of the spotlight at Scotland’s flagship film festival - along with one of Britain’s rising screen stars.
Drake Doremus and Felicity Jones headed down the red carpet as the Edinburgh International Film Festival opened in style - with a high-profile new American drama for the second year in a row. Jones’s profile is set to rise dramatically next year when she appears as a villain in the new Spider-Man blockbuster.
The pair, in Edinburgh for the European premiere of Breathe In, were joined by a string of Scottish actors to help the event get off to a flyer as the red carpet gala returned to the Festival Theatre, which played host to last year’s opening and closing galas Killer Joe and Brave.
Brian Cox, Ewen Bremner, Stephen McCole and Kate Dickie were among those to appear, along with Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer.
Karen Gillan will be on the red carpet on June 30 for the closing gala, Glasgow-set romantic drama Not Another Happy Ending, which Lost star Henry Ian Cusick also appears in.
Doremus, a graduate of the American Film Institute, told The Scotsman: “It’s my first time at the festival, but I’ve been here once before.
“I was a shooting a commercial for Samsung Galaxy and when I was here I was lucky enough to play golf at the Old Course in St Andrews. I’m a big golfer, so it was actually a huge highlight of my life. I love this city, it’s amazing. .
“It was really exciting to hear that the European premiere of our film was going to be here, at a festival steeped in such history. It’s one of the oldest and best festivals in Europe and I’ve heard lots of good things about it.”
Doremus, 30, has joined forces with Jones for a second time after their fledgling partnership working on romantic drama Like Crazy.
As with the previous film, in which Jones played an English student who struggled to maintain a long-distance relationship after falling for an America student, is playing a role much younger than her 29 years.
Her character, Sophie, is an 18-year-old music student on an exchange trip to New York who has a dramatic impact on a stable family she moves in with after striking up a close relationship with a middle-aged music teacher, played by Australian star Guy Pearce.
Doremus wrote the entire storyline for Jones and the character he envisaged the actress playing.
He added: “The character is such an old soul, she’s lived such an adventurous life in many ways and gone through so much. I thought it was the perfect age to play an 18-year-old. If Felicity she played the character 10 years ago it wouldn’t have been the same performance.”
Jones revealed that their first collaboration had been inspired by a previous EIFF hit, Breaking the Waves, English actress Emily Watson’s big-screen breakthrough, about a pair of troubled newlyweds, which was set in the Scottish Highlands.
Like Crazy, which won the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival, famously did not even have a script when Jones auditioned, but she sent the young director a tape made in her flat with the help of a group of friends.
“You would think it would be more frightening working without a script at first, but it’s not because it’s so much more collaborative and, somehow, working with Drake he is really great at making actors feel really relaxed.
This year’s festival is the second with Chris Fujiwara at the helm as artistic director, although he was only appointed a few months before the 2012 event.
The EIFF has promoted itself as a “festival of discovery”, showcasing brand-new British films, as well as those from emerging international talent.
Mr Fujiwara said: “The number of Scottish films in this year’s programme really says something about the quality of the film-making talent in this country. It’s great there are so many really powerful and intelligent films being made at the moment.
“I’m very pleased with the reaction to the whole programme so far, we’re on target for where we should be.”
Doremus, who is venturing into the world of sci-fi for his next role, said: “It’s pretty damn exciting to discover a movie, it’s like a CD or album, it is yours and you get to personalise it. I think it’s the best things about film festivals, by far - you just get to see the movie and you don’t know anything else about it.”
Jones added: “It’s why I love watching films at film festivals. You don’t have all that publicity and haven’t heard everything it is about before you go and see it. You really feel like you are setting the tone yourself.”
Although last year’s programme won plaudits for Fujiwara, eyebrows were raided at the lack of Scottish films, with Disney-Pixar’s animated fantasy Brave the only major feature in the programme.
However there are a host of new home-grown films in the line-up this year, including the Great Hip Hop Hoax, about two Scots who dupe the American music industry with their fake Californian accents, For Those In Peril, a drama about the lone survivor of a fatal fishing tragedy, and Dummy Jim, which is inspired by a deaf factory worker from Aberdeenshire’s solo cycle to the Arctic Circle in 1951.
An adaptation of The Scotsman journalist Stephen McGinty’s book about the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea will also get a world premiere ahead of the 25th anniversary of the tragedy next month.