THE artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival – credited with playing an “instrumental part in reigniting” the event – has left suddenly after three years at the helm.
Chris Fujiwara is stepping down from the prestigious role with a year left on his contract to “pursue other activities”.
Festival chiefs now face a race against time to find a replacement for the Japanese-American author and critic, but claim the shock departure will not impact “at all” on next year’s bonanza
A surprise appointment when unveiled in September 2011, Mr Fujiwara’s tenure has coincided with a revival for the festival as ticket sales soared by 33 per cent this year at 46,000.
He had only agreed an extension to his contract in 2012.
The process of recruiting a new artistic director has already begun amid reports festival chiefs are scouring the world for a talent who can further expand its audience.
It is hoped Mr Fujiwara’s successor will be in place for next year’s festival but the existing programming team, led by deputy artistic director Diane Henderson, will now oversee arrangements for the 2015 event.
Ken Hay, chief executive of EIFF, said he was “sorry to see him go” and played down the immediacy of Mr Fujiwara’s exit.
“We have been aware for some time that we were going to have to be looking for a new artistic director, as Chris came to the end of his contract,” he said.
“We are very sorry to see him go, but equally our focus is entirely on the future.
“We are starting to look for a replacement from today.
“I don’t think it will impact at all on next year’s festival.”
Mr Fujiwara took the reins of the EIFF following a disastrous rethink of the event in 2011, when red carpet galas and award ceremonies were banished and fewer film premieres were programmed under Australian director James Mullighan.
City culture and festival leaders have paid tribute to Mr Fujiwara’s stewardship of one of the world’s oldest film festivals.
Councillor Steve Cardownie, Edinburgh’s festival and events champion, said the outgoing director’s “knowledge and passion” for film had “pushed the boundaries” of the event helped to enhance the Capital’s reputation.
“Chris has been at the helm of the festival for three years and has juggled with a range of challenges,” he said.
“Undaunted, he and his team have taken the event to new heights. This year’s season was a triumph with a 33 per cent increase in visitors. While Chris will be a hard act to follow, his role is sure to attract international interest and I am confident someone of his calibre will be appointed in due course.”
City culture leader Cllr Richard Lewis, an acclaimed musician, said Mr Fujiwara had “done an excellent job” but perhaps “felt for his own artistic sake that he wanted new challenges”.
“People have to make their own artistic decisions,” he said.
In a statement, Mr Fujiwara said: “It’s been a genuine honour to work with the team in Edinburgh and contribute to the rebirth of EIFF over the last three years.
“However, I have decided to step down from my role at the festival to pursue other activities.”
Established in 1947, EIFF is renowned for discovering and promoting the very best in international cinema.