Edinburgh, capital of cultural festivals

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.


Over the coming weeks until autumn, a wealth of work produced by Basque artists will also travel to the Scottish capital. It is the time of the year when Edinburgh becomes the world capital of cultural festivals.

As our readers already know, the thrust of the Institute’s 2019 programme of activities focuses on Scotland where an important selection of Basque culture and art will be showcased throughout the year. At the end of January, we took our music to the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow (the most important winter music festival in the UK) and over the coming weeks until autumn, a wealth of work produced by Basque artists will also travel to the Scottish capital. It is the time of the year when Edinburgh becomes the world capital of cultural festivals.

Performers and artists from all disciplines and all corners of the world gather to present their work to a wide audience including a large contingent of art and culture professionals. In spring, and particularly in summer, the city’s artistic and cultural scene attracts talent from all over the world as well as hordes of foreigners who come in search of the latest trends in culture and entertainment. Every year, around this time, Edinburgh stages over 3,000 events, concentrating 25,000 creators and performers and over four and a half million spectators from 70 different countries.  

This huge cultural movement started at the end of the Second World War. In 1945, the Austrian impresario Rudolf Bing, fleeing from Nazi Germany, set up a music and theatre festival committee with a view to providing a platform for a new “flowering of the human spirit” and giving Edinburgh a new identity as a European cultural destination. It was decided that the first International Edinburgh Festival would be held in 1947 and along with it, the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Fringe Festival.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) began life in 1947 as the International Festival of Documentary Films with the aim of becoming the UK’s most important international film festival. Currently, it is part of the Centre for the Moving Image, the national institution responsible for developing a successful, dynamic film industry in Scotland. The driving force behind the festival is the belief that producing, watching and understanding film can transform lives. Under this premise, it explores new concepts in film and offers local and foreign audiences a wide-ranging programme of documentary, fiction and experimental films and shorts, with a focus on new talent in particular. Originally, the festival presented the work of filmmakers such as Roberto Rossellini, Robert Flaherty and Jacques Tati. However, in the 1970s, Lynda Myles – the first woman to direct an international film festival – turned it into a showcase for the American New Wave. In fact, her support was decisive in the careers of directors Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese and David Cronenberg. The festival also pioneered retrospectives with programmes on Douglas Sirk, Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese, a practice that has become commonplace at film festivals nowadays.

Watch out for our update on Basque cinema at the Edinburgh International Film Festival where it will be featured on the CinemaAttic platform programme.

We have posted about the Fringe Festival on several occasions. An eclectic cultural gathering of performers where anyone with a story and a place to tell it is welcome, the Fringe, as the name suggests, aims to take things to the limit. Indeed, it was this spirit of innovation that allowed the organizers to spot the practicality of new technology in 1999, when they launched and marketed the first festival mobile app, offering festivalgoers a practical, handy way to access the festival programme for the first time.

Literature has also enjoyed pride of place at Edinburgh’s culture-packed summers since 1983, the year the first Edinburgh International Book Festival was held. In a few short years, it has become the world’s biggest and most exciting literary event. While 30 writers took part the first year, nowadays, every year, over 900 literary events are held in and around Charlotte Square in Edinburgh’s city centre. Wide-ranging in appeal, these events attract some 200,000 people. One of the hallmarks of the festival is the first-class programme of round tables and discussions.  Every year, writers from all over the world come to Edinburgh to share and discuss in public their ideas, thoughts, knowledge and opinions on current issues. Around the middle of August this year, a series of Basque authors featuring Harkaitz Cano, Miren Agur Meabe, Uxue Alberdi, Bernardo Atxaga, Iban Zaldua and Eider Rodriguez will be attending this important forum to discuss and offer their views on different aspects of Basque culture.  

In recent years, as these festivals have become more consolidated and popular, new festivals showcasing different artistic disciplines have emerged, notably a jazz and blues festival, a children’s festival, an underground theatre festival and a science festival. As these too have turned into important international events, excellence in art, culture and science has become one of the city’s major hallmarks. Edinburgh is an unmissable date for thousands of art and culture lovers who flock there every year.

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