Chris Fujiwara said he wanted the annual event to focus on “independent world cinema” with an emphasis on retrospectives.
Mr Fujiwara was born in New York and has lived in Japan for the past five years. The Film Festival board said he had “extensive experience” of the film industry.
But he admitted he had never visited Edinburgh before his interview for the post and had not previously been in charge of programming for a major international event.
He said: “I want to direct a festival that will bring the excitement of world independent cinema to Edinburgh, and I want to bring a lot of the filmmakers to Edinburgh, too.”
His appointment came as it emerged Gavin Miller, chief executive of the festival’s parent body, had resigned.
He said he had put his “heart and soul” into the festival but felt it was time to pursue other interests.