Leading man: Chris Fujiwara on the Edinburgh Film Festival

Chris Fujiwara
Chris Fujiwara
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THERE’S just over a week to go until the latest installment of the world’s longest continually running film festival hits the big screens of the Capital.

With hundreds of films, red carpet events, awards and premieres, and more than a few famous faces, it is set to have a cast of thousands.

Unlike most great cinema however the man pulling the strings will not be hidden away behind the scenes. After a lacklustre event last year – something many felt was down to a lack of leadership – all eyes will be on Chris Fujiwara, the soft-spoken New York film critic and writer who has taken on the role of artistic director.

A studious film fan, Fujiwara has penned works on topics as wide-ranging as slapstick legend Jerry Lewis and French auteur Jacques Tournier, so it’s little surprise that he was well aware of the festival’s history.

“Before applying for this job I had known of the Edinburgh festival the way it was in the 1970s and 80s, under artistic directors like Murray Grigor and Lynda Myles,” he says. “Under their leadership it was regarded as one of the major festival in the world.

“It was the place where people from all over Europe came to show their films and so when I was young it was something of a legendary event for me.”

Despite his admiration, Fujiwara had never actually attended the festival, and before arriving last August to be interviewed for the job had never even visited the Capital. Even now that he lives here he admits there’s quite a lot of the city still to see.

“I’m still getting to know the city,” he says softly when asked what he makes of Edinburgh. “I know the area I live in, the New Town, and it’s lovely,” he says. “And I know the area where I work, Lothian Road. Beyond that, I’ve sill not seen much.”

He is joking of course – though it’s not much of an exaggeration to say he’s been a little too busy for one of the Capital’s open-top tours.

He was appointed to the role of artistic director in September, has been working furiously to put together a programme he can be proud of – and one which will help restore the reputation of the festival.

The re-instatement of the Michael Powell and International Feature awards was an early step in the right direction, and since then there has been no shortage of hard work – starting while he was still in Japan.

“After I heard I got the job I was still in Tokyo but I pretty much started thinking about it straight away, and I went to a few festivals and managed to tie up some films. And since I arrived in Edinburgh that has pretty much continued.”

“I would say I’ve probably watched 1000 films myself, and there are a whole group of programmers who have been watching submissions and other movies, so altogether we’ve probably watched close to 4000 movies to put the programme together,” he says.

Those 4000 films have been whittled down to just over 150, spanning 52 countries and including 19 premiers and offering everything from experimental shorts to big-budget crowd pleasers, the most notable of which is the event’s closing night Gala screening of the Disney-Pixar film Brave.

Securing the international premier of such a high profile picture was no small feat, and while the announcement was rather taken out of his hands – First Minister Alex Salmond broke the news – Fujiwara is still delighted by the Capture.

“I was pleased he made the announcement as it brings with it a great deal of publicity and attention,” he admits. “I have seen the film, and it’s definitely up to the standards people have come to expect from Pixar.”

The festival may close with a 3D flourish, but it is set to open with bang. The opening night feature is the UK premiere of William Friedkin’s eagerly anticipated comic thriller Killer Joe.

As for his favourite, his role prohibits Fujiwara from saying too much, with several films – such as the bizarre The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus, and the thriller Shadow Dancer, from the Oscar-winning director of Man on Wire Jim Marsh – showing in competition.

Outside of the competition however he is willing to nail his colours to the mast, and admits there is one film he would love audiences to experience.

“I think the film I’m most pleased to be showing is part of the Shinji Somai retrospective. We’re showing all 13 of his movies and there is one that is a true masterpiece, Typhoon Club.”

Looking at the films on offer its plain to see that this is a festival catering to all tastes. There’s everything from kung-fu epic Dragon to Irish monster movie Grabbers and the absurd feature from French director Quentin Dupieux, the man behind the finest film about a serial-killing tyre ever made.

While the lights are still to go up on this year’s event, and with the nerves still jangling, its clear Fujiwara is hoping there will be more than one instalment of this particular adventure.

“I would love to stay longer,” he says “My contract was just for this year, but I certainly hope there is more to come.”

• The Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012, June 20 - July 1. edfilmfest.org.uk