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Capital's festival is a haven where films are still taken seriously

SO, I'm planning to catch the odd zombie romcom, a Norwegian revenge movie, a South Korean gay love story and an animated version of the linguistic theories of Noam Chomsky in the next couple of weeks.

How about you?

One of the best things about the start of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which kicks off on Wednesday, is that it means we can start talking about the films on show. Yes, yes, we can keep an eye out for who's traipsing down the red carpet (so far Elijah Wood, America Ferrara and Don "Miami Vice" Johnson) and keep a tab on how ticket sales are going despite the televised competition of a certain global football contest (always the most convincing argument for moving the festival back to August in my mind; others - those who haven't got money on Bosnia to win in Brazil - may take another line).

But, really, a film festival is about films. The clue's in the title. It's about the new discoveries and the rediscoveries (is Ken Russell's Billion Dollar Brain as wild and gloriously silly as I remember it? I may find out on June 26 when it plays as part of writer John McGrath's retrospective). And it's about the idea that - for a decent chunk of the population - film culture is still a thing. That it's okay to treat it as an art form and not get too wound up about box office takings. To argue a German documentary about a Mexican juvenile prison (Thomas Heise's Staedtebewohner, say) might be at least as interesting as JJ Abrams's next Star Wars movie (possibly more; but then I didn't like Abrams's take on Star Trek that much). Festivals remain places where it is possible to take cinema seriously. And that's the same whether it's slasher movies or silent films.

But what's so special about them these days, you might say. Haven't DVDs and increasingly online streaming opened up the history of cinema to all of us? True enough (though you try to watch a Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie on Netflix). But that requires you to know what you're looking for. Film festivals are still places where you can stumble on something you know nothing about.

When I was a boy - which I'm afraid to say wasn't yesterday, or even the day before that - television was genuinely interested in cinema. I could watch horror double bills on a Saturday night and Nouvelle Vague seasons on Sundays. Now, apart from the odd early morning or late night screenings on Film4 or BBC2 that's a thing of the past. Instead, we get a repetitious diet of films - Hollywood films, let's be honest - from the last ten years shown over and over again. Cinema is a medium that TV doesn't get any more. Which is why something like the EIFF is essential. Because in the end man cannot live on X-Men movies alone.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival opens on Wednesday and runs until June 29. For details visit edfilmfest.org.uk.

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