Seventy years of Edinburgh International Film Festival

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Edinburgh International Film Festival is celebrating its 70th anniversary with a special digital archive project looking back at its seven incredible decades of movie magic. Here's our pick of great moments from the history of the longest continually-running film festival in the world. 

B 1940s

1940s - The first Edinburgh International Film Festival

Magic moment: The Film Festival we know and love today actually originated in 1947 as a festival of the documentary form, describing itself as the "First International Festival of Documentary Films". 

The first films of the new festival were The Cumberland Story, The Seventh Age and The Festival of Youth, while Roberto Rossellini's Paisà, with its examination of the liberation of Italy during World War II, was screened at the festival's Closing Gala. 

Honourable mentions: Robert J. Flaherty's ground-breaking docu-fiction Louisiana Story opened the second Film Festival in 1948, while the work of Jacques Tati, then unknown in Britain, closed the 1949 Festival with Jour de Fête

B 1950s

1950s - Gene Kelly visits for his latest premiere

Magic moment: Hollywood legend Gene Kelly was in attendance at the 1956 Festival for the premiere of Invitation to the Dance, saying "I have always been a confirmed believer in the "Film Festival" as an incentive to higher standards of creative work, and anyone who has been to Edinburgh will tell you that every visitor leaves with the resolve to do better things." 

Honourable mentions: Ealing Studios classic The Man in the White Suit opened the 1951 Festival, while another legend, Orson Welles, delivered a sold-out two hour lecture on the power of cinema at 1953's Festival.  

B 1960s

1960s - Easy Rider and the Hell's Angels from Fife 

Magic moment: Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda's classic road movie was intended for very limited release in the UK and its studio, Columbia Pictures, were none-too-happy when they found out that the Edinburgh International Film Festival planned to screen it in the 3000 seat Playhouse. 

However, when a huge queue of Hell's Angels who had roared over from Fife appeared outside the venue for the premiere attended by Fonda they had a bit of a rethink!

Honourable mentions: The 1966 Festival opened with the UK premiere of David Lean's epic Dr Zhivago, while a year later came the screening of an experimental short film from a young George Lucas, which would later become the sci-fi classic THX 1138.

B 1970s

1970s - The Women's Film Festival

Magic moment: 1972's Film Festival was programmed by Lynda Myles, Laura Mulvey and Claire Johnston, with a groundbreaking season of films directed by women, the first such season in Europe and only the second in the world. More about this

Myles would go on to take the role of Artistic Director of the Festival one year later, becoming the first woman in the world to become director of a film festival. 

Honourable mentions: Legendary director John Huston screened Fat City in 1972, declaring Edinburgh "the only [film festival] that's worth a damn". Woody Allen was also a fan, with Annie Hall opening the 1977 Festival and Manhattan making its UK premiere in 1979 at Allen's specific request.

B 1980s

1980s - E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial has its UK premiere

Magic moment: In 1982, Steven Spielberg's lovable little lost alien made his debut in the UK, screening to a full house at the Playhouse Theatre, and delighting everyone lucky enough to be there.

E.T. would come home (sorry) to Edinburgh decades later at 2016's Festival, as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra provided a live soundtrack to a very special screening of the classic film. 

Honourable mentions: Two of the films featured in the 2017 Film Festival's Handmade in Britain retrospective strand received their premieres at the Festival, The Long Good Friday in 1980 and Withnail & I in 1987. It wasn't all about the UK though, with French cult classic Betty Blue opening the 1986 Festival.

B 1990s

1990s - Crime classic The Usual Suspects premieres 

Magic moment: One of the best loved films of the 1990s, The Usual Suspects premiered at the 1995 Edinburgh International Film Festival, giving audiences the chance to enjoy its breathless and intricate plot plus superb performances from Gabriel Byrne, Pete Postlethwaite and Kevin Spacey - the latter winning an Academy Award for his work in the film. 

Honourable mentions: Other major films to screen at the Festival in the 1990s included Barton Fink and Boyz in The Hood in 1991, Strictly Ballroom in 1992, The Piano in 1993, Shallow Grave in 1994 and Terry Gilliam's amazing adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in 1998.

B 2000s

2000s - Jean-Pierre Jeunet brings Amelie to Edinburgh

Magic moment: Jeunet's gloriously enjoyable Parisian classic opened the 2001 Film Festival, with the director present for the premiere as audiences met his wonderfully idiosyncratic heroine, Amelie of Montmartre, for the first time. 

Jeunet also took the time to appear at a special Reel Life event, giving fans a chance to hear unique insights into his work.

Honourable mentions: Lars Von Trier's controversial Dancer in the Dark was the opening film of the the 2000 festival, fresh from its Palme D'Or win at Cannes. The 2000s also saw premieres for Serenity in 2005 and Control in 2007, plus an outstanding contribution award for Sigourney Weaver in 2006.

B 2010s

2010s - Edinburgh beautifully animated in The Illusionist

Magic moment: We mentioned Jacques Tati above, and an unproduced script by the French star was the basis for what would become Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist

The film opened the 2010 Film Festival, thrilling Edinburgh cinephiles in particular with its wonderful animations depicting the Scottish capital. 

Honourable mentions: Appearances by Patrick Stewart in 2010 and Bill Nighy in 2011 were followed by premieres for more great animated work, with Brave in 2012 and Finding Dory in 2016. 

It has been a remarkable seventy years for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and the above is just a taste of the wealth of cinematic riches to be found in the Festival's excellent new digital archive. It's a must visit for lovers of film and Edinburgh's festivals heritage.

Edinburgh International Film Festival runs until 2 July 2017. More information on the festival, including programme and ticketing links.

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