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Everything you need to know about Edinburgh TV Festival 2021

The Edinburgh Television Festival, now in its 45th year, returns from Monday 23rd August and for the second year running, will be streamed online for delegates across four consecutive days.

Once again, the great and the good of the television industry will come together to reflect on the last 12 months and look ahead to the future of the industry.

With over 60 sessions and more than 100 speakers including industry heavyweights, top executives and renowned TV talent, this year's festival promises to ask the hard questions, tackling today’s key issues from mental health and disability rights to climate change, motherhood and the challenges facing indies in 2021.

With a wealth of panels, forums and sessions, this year's Edinburgh Television Festival will explore, debate and dissect the spectrum of the television industry in the current climate, with leading talent, top industry experts and executives participating across the four days.

Taking on the newly created role of International Editor for The Edinburgh TV Festival’s Advisory Board is world-renowned fashion designer, celebrity stylist, leading TV personality and star of Queer Eye, Tan France.

He's been working closely with this year's Advisory Chair, Georgia Brown, Festival Creative Director, Stewart Clarke and the Festival’s Advisory Board to shape and curate this year’s Festival.

With over 15 years of experience working with leading international clothing brands, Tan is a long-term follower of the Festival who will bring a unique perspective and experience to this year’s Festival, curating sessions with a distinctly international flavour.

Long-standing festival sponsor, YouTube, returns for 2021 alongside new joint headline partner, Screen Scotland.

Here's a taste of what's to come from this year's Edinburgh Television Festival...

The James MacTaggart Lecture

Jack Thorne

Highly acclaimed dramatist and playwright, Jack Thorne, is to deliver the flagship session of this year’s Edinburgh TV Festival; The James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture.

Jack is a celebrated and multi-award-winning creator and writer of TV shows, films and stage plays ranging from His Dark Materials, Kiri, This is England 88,86 & 90 and The Virtues to Enola Holmes, The Secret Garden, Don’t Take My Baby, The Solid Life of Sugar Water and Harry Potter and The Cursed Child.

As a disabled professional, Thorne is a vocal champion, campaigner and ally of other disabled creatives both in front of and behind the camera. At a time when questions are being asked about how the industry and society at large treat those who are under-represented, Thorne will put disability centre stage.

His lecture will focus on the need for greater representation, platforming the voices of disabled professionals– both visible and invisible – and the role the TV industry has to play in defining a more accessible future, underpinned by his own life experience and drive to use his position and voice to influence change.

His forthcoming work includes Help, a film for Channel 4 drama directed by Marc Munden, which is set in a fictional Liverpool care home and tells the moving story of the relationship between a young carer, played by Jodie Comer, and a patient, played by Stephen Graham, whose lives are changed forever by the onset and handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Thorne has also co-written with Genevieve Barr a new BBC factual drama Independence Day? How Disabled Rights Were Won starring Ruth Madeley, based on the remarkable true story of the people behind an irrepressible campaign of direct action that lead to the winning of disabled civil rights in Britain.

The Alternative MacTaggart

London Hughes

Comedian, writer, actor and presenter, London Hughes, will be this year’s Alternative MacTaggart speaker.

British comedian Hughes was the first British Black woman to be nominated for the Dave Edinburgh Comedy ‘Best Show’ Award for her 2019 show London Hughes: To Catch a D*ck which was later turned in to a hugely successful Netflix special.

A vocal critic of the UK broadcasting industry for the lack of support for Black female performers, Hughes is also a powerful voice for female empowerment and inclusivity and will be providing plenty of laughs and she discusses, with the Festival’s International Editor, Tan France, her career, experiences in the UK vs the US and what needs to be done to support women and inclusivity in the industry.

The International Icon Interview

Whoopi Goldberg

With a career in TV, film, and theatre lasting over 40 years, and the only Black woman to have achieved the EGOT (winner of an EMMY, Grammy, Tony and Oscar), global icon Whoopi Goldberg talks candidly about her life on and off-screen and her experiences as a multi-award winning artist, producer, author, entrepreneur and humanitarian.

Goldberg will be characteristically frank in this one-on-one virtual interview where she will share insight and anecdotes about a career spanning four decades.

Who better to discuss how the entertainment industry has evolved, for better and worse and what it might look like in the future?

Exclusive Interview

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Credit: Matthew Murphy

Celebrated American songwriter, actor, director and producer, Lin-Manuel Miranda will be interviewed in Cardiff, Wales, by Bad Wolf CEO, Jane Tranter.

The interview will focus on talent and specifically how to nurture and support new generations of creatives.

The pair will also discuss Miranda’s journey and passion for creating pathways into the industry for new voices. Miranda will answer questions from emerging creatives, including from the TV Foundation’s talent schemes and Screen Alliance Wales.

Worldview Address

Greta Thunberg

Internationally renowned climate activist Greta Thunberg and acclaimed writer Jo Nesbo will be taking the Worldview Address slot.

Thunberg and Nesbo will discuss the creative industry’s responsibility towards sustainability and a greener future; whether there should be an emphasis on a storyteller’s role to highlight the climate crisis and how we can all affect change.

Navdip Dhariwal will host the conversation between the pair.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Billy Connolly

Regarded as the most influential comedian of all time, Sir Billy Connolly CBE will be awarded with the Edinburgh Television Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his immeasurable contribution to the industry.

The legendary actor, musician, artist and author will be interviewed by writer and performer Dr Pamela Stephenson Connolly, in an exclusive conversation celebrating and reflecting on his extensive body of work and successes within the industry.


This Time with Alan Partridge

Steve Coogan will be holding an exclusive This Time with Alan Partridge Masterclass discussing the success of the BBC series and the Partridge phenomenon with Loose Women and ITV News presenter Charlene White.

They will be joined by This Time co-writer Rob Gibbons and Baby Cow CEO Sarah Monteith as all concerned get under the skin of one of TV’s most enduring comic creations.

Looking for Louis

This year, the festival has teamed up with internationally renowned journalist, documentary maker, broadcaster and author, Louis Theroux, to launch a new talent search to discover the next generation of on-screen documentary makers who want to follow in his investigative footsteps.

Looking For Louis will culminate in a must-see session at this year’s Festival where Theroux and his production company partners Nancy Strang and Arron Fellows will reveal the talented winner of this exclusive talent search.

The search has been launched through Theroux’s production company, Mindhouse Productions, in partnership with The TV Foundation and Amazon Prime Video with support from The TriForce Creative Network.

Entrants had to submit a one-page pitch for a two-minute micro-documentary and the shortlist of 10, selected by a panel of influential industry figures, will be given support to make their two-minute doc, to be shot on a mobile phone.

Mindhouse will select the six finalists whose films will form the basis of an Edinburgh TV Festival session featuring the filmmakers and Mindhouse executives including Theroux himself. The session will also examine Theroux’s passion regarding the need to find a new generation of creative and investigative talent and what advice he’d give to aspiring documentary makers.

The winner will win a six-month, exclusive development period with Mindhouse working with the company’s creative team to develop projects and pitch them to commissioners as well as free access to the Festival for the shortlist and winners.

In addition, Prime Video will also offer the winner a bespoke, 12-month programme of mentoring and training, overseen by Fozia Khan, Amazon Studios Unscripted Executive, to help them further their career goals.

Spotlight On...

The Festival’s flagship controller sessions will be changing to reflect the industry shift in commissioning. New ‘Spotlight’ sessions will feature one-on-one interviews with creative content chiefs and bosses including the Festivals’ Advisory Chair, Georgia Brown from Amazon, Charlotte Moore from the BBC, Ian Katz from Channel 4, Kevin Lygo from ITV, Marcus Arthur from UKTV and Ben Frow from Channel 5.

Each will discuss their vision for their channels and platforms as well as addressing wider industry issues.

The second instalment of the Spotlight sessions will see the commissioning and genre chiefs including Polly Hill, Sebastian Cardwell and Phil Edgar-Jones, step in and give their take on programming trends and detailed updates on their specific content needs.

Other sessions

Writer-director Raisah Ahmed will host a conversation between frequent collaborators Neil Gaiman and Douglas Mackinnon about their work together and individually, from Good Omens, Doctor Who and Sherlock, to American Gods and Anansi Boys, covering creativity, culture, living and working in Scotland, and bringing big-budget fantasy drama to the screen.

This year's International Insight sessions will see a similar examination of commissioning strategies to those from all the major UK broadcasters and streamers, with the International senior chiefs of Amazon Studios, Discovery+, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia.

In a session called Rise of the talent-led indie, David Dehaney - writer, broadcaster, Co-Founder of Born In Me Productions, Simon Bird - writer, actor Co-Founder of People Person Pictures, Bettany Hughes - Historian, Broadcaster, co-founder of Sandstone Global and Jonny Sweet - writer, actor, co-founder of People Person Pictures, discuss the motivation & chain of events that led them to start up on their own.

In One Leaves Every Minute: TV’s Motherhood penalty & How to Fix It, Charlotte Riley - actress, director of The Wonderworks, Dr Natalie Wrayford - lecturer, Kings College London, Ria Hebden - presenter and broadcaster and Michelle James Reynolds - co-director of SMTJ, Women’s Officer BECTU Unscripted, will explore the accelerating talent drain for mothers in the industry and look at very real & simple solutions to stopping a mass exodus of female talent.

In a roundtable discussion called Forensics: TV Crime Drama Under the Microscope, Boyd Hilton - Entertainment Editor, Heat Magazine will speak to actors Pippa Bennett and Rakie Ayola, crime novelist and writer Val McDermid, executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle and writer Tony Schumacher, delving into what it is about crime drama that captures the public’s imagination.

Other masterclasses will include some of the key cast and crew of the international Italian series Gomorrah, hit Amazon Prime Video documentary All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur and critically acclaimed Channel 4 series We Are Lady Parts which will be hosted by Tan France.

And there's a special Edinburgh version of Spitting Image where Boris Johnson is in conversation with Dominic Cummings, as they try to answer the question, "Why is telly so shit?"

With so much going on, to make sure you don't miss a thing throughout the festival, including new show announcements, make sure you keep checking back to the dedicated page on I Talk Telly throughout the week and follow Elliot Gonzalez on Twitter for the latest updates live from all the sessions.

Edinburgh Television Festival 2021 runs from Monday 23rd - Thursday 26th August


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