Tilda Swinton joins trio to shake up Edinburgh film festival

Oscar-winning actor to curate alongside Mark Cousins and Lynda Myles in move to reinvent festival facing big funding cuts

The Oscar-winning actor Tilda Swinton is to become a curator of the world's longest-running film festival, in Edinburgh, in a dramatic move to breathe new life into an event that faces big funding cuts.

A shift in style became immediately apparent as it was revealed that it would move away from the traditional image of film festivals, as there will be no winners or award ceremonies.

Instead, new ideas – including cheaper tickets, a string of "discrepant thinkers" as guest curators, one-off events and "honesty days" when people can pay what they feel a film is worth – promise to reinvent the festival and bring in new film lovers.

After a fruitless four-month search for a replacement artistic director following the departure of Hannah McGill in the autumn, organisers have decided against having a single person.

Instead Mark Cousins, who headed the event for two years in the mid-1990s, will be in charge of the "artistic and creative vision" for 2011, alongside Swinton, a patron of the festival and another former director, Lynda Myles. The change follows poor returns last year, which saw a 10% drop in ticket sales. Billed as a "one-off" celebration to mark its 65th birthday, it will be called "All That Heaven Allows".

Cousins, who describes himself, Swinton and Myles as the "dreamy outsiders", said the festival needed its "Ziggy Stardust moment". It has lost £1.9m in funding over the next three years following the government's decision to scrap the UK Film Council. He said: "It is probably the most radical shakeup the film festival has had. The film festival world is changing. There are now 2,000 festivals. A lot are quite similar. But if you look at music festivals there is a lot happening. What Tilda and I and Lynda can do is take the film festival and mash it up with other stuff, with dance culture and music culture."

Cousins said he would programme new events to celebrate the links between film and the likes of visual art, music and literature, while there will be campaigns to promote films to young people. Big premieres will also be scaled back, although Cousins expects still to attract big names.

"We want this to be a kind of Meltdown meets the Venice Biennale," he said. "We have this city full of film lovers – we had 45,000 people last year – but it is a mistake to think of it in terms of who your audience is." Citing events such as the Ballerina Ballroom, two years ago, in which Swinton transformed a disused ballroom in the small Scottish town of Nairn into a cinema for a week, and another in which he and Swinton did a film pilgrimage with a mobile cinema from the east to the west coast, which attracted thousands of people from all over the world, Cousins said he wanted to surprise people.

"We love the Edinburgh film festival but it needs to continue to surprise people to keep people attentive. We're clearing away everything for renewal to give ourselves space for a rethink.

"Edinburgh is a city on a human scale and the festival has never felt like a institution, it's always spiky and edgy. We shouldn't try to make it too grand. We wanted to have an honesty day in which we tell people to pay what they think, give nothing or give over a bottle of wine. We want it to be quite playful."


Karen McVeigh

The GuardianTramp

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