Exploring Edinburgh’s family-friendly festivals

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Jane and family go ‘super’ with Mr. & Mrs. Incredible

As the UK falters towards Brexit, there’s no loss of irony in the overwhelming success of the Edinburgh Festivals, born in 1947 out of a global conflict as a platform to celebrate art and culture and to bring nations together once again. And what a job they’ve done.

Every year the Scottish capitals’ 11 festivals bring together artists, audiences and thinkers from over 70 countries to its medieval closes, cobbled streets, underground vaults and Georgian grandeur. Celebrating its 72nd year this year, the Edinburgh International Film Festival is the longest continuously running film festival in the world. Premiers have included Doctor Zhivago, Taxi Driver, Manhattan, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Pulp Fiction and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

This year’s festival (June 20 to July 1, 2018) began by treating young and old to the premier of Incredibles 2, the long-awaited sequel of the beloved Disney Pixar film which sees everybody’s favourite superhero family slip back into their super-suits. Held at the Festival Theatre, young film-goers were treated to the real Mr. & Mrs. Incredible in full supers style, posing on the stairs for photos, whilst face painters were on hand to create the iconic black masks on young audience goers. There’s free ice cream and balloon folding too, all for the price of a ticket (£12 adult, £5 children and young people up to 25 with a The Young & The Wild pass – see below). And once everyone’s seated, there’s an on-stage welcome from real-life Disney animator, Fran Kalal who designed the supers costumes – in essence the real Edna Mode.

Scarlett & Fin show how to pose like a red carpet pro

Fran also worked on Merida’s costumes in Brave, never having been to Scotland and tells the audience how thrilled she is to be in Edinburgh. For young filmgoers, seeing the people who create these films is a huge thrill. Written and directed by Brad Bird, who also made the 2004 original, and again provides the voice for Edna Mode, sees Helen (voiced again by Holly Hunter), as Elastagirl, continue to fight crime and campaign for the return of ‘Supers’ in society, while Bob, Craig T Nelson, Aka Mr. Incredible, stays at home to look after their super children.

The film is a hit with my kids, aged 14 and 11, exploring the theme that parenting is as tough a gig as being a super hero. As Edna Mode says, “Done properly, parenting is a heroic act.’ There’s also a nod to the enslavement of us all to digital, with a villain named the Screenslaver. The wit, pace and charm of the sequel leaves die-hard fans of the original breathing a sigh of relief. The Edinburgh International Film Festival doesn’t just champion the A-list blockbusters. There are modest budget family animations on the programme too such as Vitello, a gentle film about an energetic young boy who lives alone with his mother, that originated in Denmark, but involved a Scottish crew to bring it to the screen.

Vitello, a family-friendly animation is brought to the big screen

Shown at the thoroughly modern Cineworld in Fountain Park, the film festival audience is treated to a post-film talk by the director, Dorte Bengtson, and four of the English-speaking cast, three of whom are kids. Having no further distribution as yet, it’s a delight to see this heartfelt animation about real family life. Hearing from the children who voiced the characters, reveals just how inspiring being involved in film can be for youngsters.

In fact throughout this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) there’s a new emphasis on the benefits of film for the young, both in nurturing child and young adult audiences and encouraging young filmmakers. The Young & The Wild is a new movement at this year’s festival aimed at 15 to 25 year olds, hosting an array of cutting-edge film screenings, special events, talks and master classes for youth audiences. At the launch event at the Cornerstone Centre at the west end of Prince’s Street, we’re treated to a first screening of a clever short film about bullying created and starring some of the under-privileged young residents of Edinburgh’s gritty Wester Hailes Estate.

The Young & The Wild movement

It’s clear the project has tapped into hidden talents and given them a huge sense of pride, being brought to an international audience at the festival. This dovetails with the fact that 2018 is Scotland’s Year of Young People, in celebration of which, EIFF has an expanded programme for young audiences. As Janine Koppe, EIFF Youth Events Manager, says, “It’s thrilling for young people to be trusted to make big decisions in film-making and at the festival, deciding which films to screen. Moving Music with Tinderbox Orchestra is one of my favourites, where young musicians have created film scores for silent films. And the charity has meant underprivileged children have been given grants to travel to the festival to participate. They have also been given the opportunity to interview filmmaker, Mark Cousins and Scottish actor, Kevin Guthrie, star of Dunkirk.

The Young & the Wild recommendations throughout the festival include Mary Shelley staring Elle Fanning, and Toby MacDonald’s debut Old Boys, a re-working of Cyrano de Bergerac’s classic story set against the backdrop of a rough and tumble boarding school for boys. And Fake Tattoos, a realistic and witty coming of age romance from Montreal. In between festival events, Edinburgh is simply teeming with family-friendly things to see and do. Along the cobbled Royal Mile with its ancient closes, you can catch street performers such as Super Scot, a comedic escapologist who’s been performing since the age of 10. Down the steeply curved, otherworldly Victoria Street, allegedly the blueprint for J K Rowling’s Diagon Alley, don’t miss a look around one of the many Harry Potter shops here that rub shoulders with whiskey and tartan houses.

Scarlett makes her way down from Edinburgh Castle

Top of your list should be Edinburgh Castle, more fortified village than standalone castle sitting majestically on its great granite rock. Kids will learn how the castle was home to kings and queens including Mary Queen of Scots who gave birth to James VI of Scotland/James I of England in the royal palace in 1566. Don’t miss the dog cemetery and Redcoat Café with panoramic views over Princes’ Street and the New Town. On our visit, hard-hatted workfolk were hard at work constructing the seating for the epic Military Tattoo, part of the Edinburgh Festival in August.

Booking in advance is strongly recommended for this Scottish spectacle. Another gem for families is the National Museum of Scotland, refurbished two years ago and featuring interactive areas for kids covering everything from meteorites to monsters from the deep and the best Scottish innovators. And best of all, Edinburgh has plenty of open spaces for kids to let off steam including Princes’ Street Gardens, the epic Salisbury Crags, Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat where my Scottish granny used to wash her face in the May day dew to ensure youthful beauty!

There’s plenty to engage children at the National Museum of Scotland

Where to stay: For a central location, Adagio Aparthotel just down the road from Edinburgh Castle and around the corner from Waverley train station is a find. With an ancient façade at the front and new development to the rear, Adagio aims to combine the essentials of hotel and apartment living.

The downstairs communal living space has trendy breakout areas for lounging on velvet blue sofas or playing a game of table football – a big hit with my kids. There’s a basket of fruit and croissants to help yourself and cooked and continental help yourself breakfast is served daily. If you want a quick dinner, there’s DIY fast food to buy next to reception including pot noodles and pizzas to prepare in your apartment which all come with fully fitted kitchens.

Our one-bedroom, corner apartment on the forth floor has incredible views of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags, the Firth of Forth and North Sea beyond, plus the vista over Waverley Station and the Princes’ Street skyline from floor to ceiling windows. My daughter is a connoisseur of sofa beds and reckons the one at Adagio is as comfortable as her own bed at home. Quite the accolade! It’s also a cinch to put up.

Adagio Aparthotel Edinburgh is centrally located

Jumping for joy at New Waverley

Adagio is part of an impressive new regeneration of the area, known as New Waverley comprising office space, hotels, retail and housing. A newly created public space out the back of Adagio hosts a Flea & Food market with cute stalls selling handmade cards, vintage clothes and artwork, with world street food stalls from Peru to Thai noodles. It’s a cool place to hang out with the kids for early evening.

International filmmaker, Terry Gilliam who took part in Edinburgh’s Words on the Street project quotes Don Quixote in a cool neon installation at the market which states, “I shall tear up trees with my bare teeth! I shall crush mountains with my fists! I shall go crazy – for love!” More proof that Edinburgh is a city where you and your children will be engulfed in artistic endeavor.

The lowdown: Edinburgh and its festivals

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Adagio Aparthotel Edinburgh costs from £59 per night for an apartment.

For a full rundown on the Edinburgh International Film Festival

A £5 The Young & the Wild pass gives you free access to all events at The Young & the Wild HQ and gives you discounted £5 tickets for the majority of films and events in the EIFF programme. And you can claim free tickets to some special screenings and events.

If you miss the film festival, Edinburgh has plenty more family friendly festivals.

The Incredibles 2 goes on general release on July 13, 2018

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