For lack of celebrities, films are the real stars of EIFF

It’s a Disaster stars Amber Tamblyn and David Cross, just two of the stars who won’t be coming to EIFF

At the Edmonton International Film Festival (EIFF) we can focus on the films instead of being distracted by all the Hollywood celebrities who aren’t coming.

Neither Johnny Depp nor Wynona Rider will be here. Gwyneth Paltrow won’t be making it. TMZ crews will not be stalking the lobby of the Empire City Centre 9 Cinemas, where EIFF runs continuously on two screens Sept. 28-Oct. 6.

This is what you call your classic double-edged sword.

EIFF producer Kerrie Long says they practice due diligence and invite as many stars as possible, then “cross our fingers and hope,” but sadly, most of them declined – again.

“On one hand we sort of get a little bit deflated,” she says. “But on the other hand, we feel we do have all these independents. And I call them fiercely independent, because most of them make the films on their parents’ credit cards. You think when Martin Scorsese was touring with his very first film that anybody knew who he was? So it’s the idea that we’ll discover together a new director, a new artist, new actors. We really try to focus on discovery.”

There will be stars at EIFF’s gala opening on Friday night – can’t have a gala without actual people involved in the film – but you may not have heard of them. In this case it’s writer-director Jesse James Miller, producers and the 14-year-old star (Ryan Grantham, below) of Becoming Redwood, the heartwarming tale of a kid who uses a fantasy golf match to cope with a woeful family situation. Additionally, Long says, she could give us a list of all the filmmakers who will be here, but you probably have never heard of them, either.

But what is the purpose of a film festival, anyway? It has to be more than just a place for movie stars to hang out. Some Toronto film buffs were complaining about media coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), having to search for real stories about actual films amongst the wads of celebrity hysteria, with even august publications like the Globe and Mail getting all giddy over Ryan Gosling and Kristen Stewart.

Ryan Grantham stars in Becoming Redwood

Hell, we would, too. But in Edmonton, like we said, the films are the most important part of this particular FILM festival. Nearly 100 movies will be screened: Features, shorts, documentaries, international, homegrown, you name it. EIFF received more than 120 submissions from Albertans this year.

Highlights include Lemon, the Cannes Palme D’or winning film about a convicted felon trying to turn his life around through performance. There is Deepa Mehta’s new movie Midnight Children, based on a Salman Rushdie novel. The closing gala is It’s a Disaster, another black comedy from the creators of Scenesters – which was at EIFF in 2009 – and which managed to score some pretty big stars: America Ferrera and David Cross. Both were asked to come to Edmonton incidentally. Ferrera was “so sweet,” says Long. “She said she’d love to come, but she has a wedding.”

A nagging question comes up here: Why is the Metro Cinema at the Garneau – Edmonton’s only fulltime indie movie house – not part of EIFF this year? The theatre hosts most of Edmonton’s other film festivals, and had been an EIFF venue in the past, but this year will be have its own programming, effectively competing for Edmonton’s relatively small indie film audience.

Long explains the decision, “The board of directors had a vision for the festival that we all be downtown, so that was possible to do this year.”

Metro Cinema manager Pete Harris says the film society is open to working with EIFF in the future and “we wish the 2012 Edmonton film festival all the success in the world.”

Admission to most EIFF films is $12.50 or less, excluding the opening and closing galas for $25 each. Festival passes and “six pack” deals are on sale at Tix on the Square. Full schedule here.