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Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton starts film festival

  • Story Highlights
  • Tilda Swinton's "The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams" is being held in Nairn
  • "No Country for Old Men" co-director Joel Coen is guest curating two films
  • The actress balances a commitment to independent film with mainstream success
  • Swinton on her career success: "I'm just making it up as I go along to be honest."
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By CNN's Mairi Mackay
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Robert Redford did it, so has Robert De Niro; now the latest actor to start a film festival is Tilda Swinton.

Tilda Swinton holding her statuette aloft at this year's Academy Awards where she was awarded Best Supporting Actress.

The Oscar winner's extravagantly titled "The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams" will be held in a rented ballroom in her home town of Nairn in northern Scotland at the end of August.

Swinton decided to create (and pay for) a festival that would, "run 8 1/2 days, that would be a six out of 10 on the grunge scale, that would serve home-made cakes and fish finger sandwiches, whose tickets would be £3/£2," according to the Ballerina Ballroom website.

Unlike the market-driven mania of, say, Cannes, the festival will not centre on premieres; rather a selection of Tilda and her friends' favorite films from throughout cinema history.

But Swinton will be bringing her own brand of quirky glamour to the Highland beach resort where Charlie Chaplin once spent his holidays.

Joel Coen, one half of the Oscar-winning directors of "No Country for Old Men," is guest curating two films for the festival -- musical extravaganza "Dames" by Busby Berkeley and Japanese director Akira Kurosawa crime thriller "High and Low."

The rest of the films have been chosen by the flame-haired actress herself, along with her cineaste friend Mark Cousins, who was previously the Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Watch Tilda Swinton on "Screening Room Xtra" Video

And Swinton is certainly in good position to choose, having been on the jury of some of the world's great film festivals -- Venice in 1998, Cannes in 2004.

She is also a patron of the Edinburgh International Film Festival along with Sean Connery -- "double-oh-three-and-a-half" to the former Bond star's 007, as she jokingly refers to herself.

She puts much of her longtime love affair with independent film down to spending time in Scotland's capital as a young girl.

"It is the place that I first saw any international cinema; anything outside of 'Mary Poppins' or whatever I was being taken to by my parents."

Over the years Swinton's brave, eclectic and occasionally downright leftfield career choices have led her back to "the filmmakers festival" repeatedly.

"I have sort of rumbled in and out for many years in different guises with different films, short films, experimental non-narrative films, Hungarian films and so when they asked me to be some kind of mascot for it, I mean I really couldn't be happier."

The Cambridge-educated thespian has somehow managed to balance her deep commitment to independent film with a successful Hollywood career.

She was awarded an Oscar this year for her role as corrupt corporate lawyer in Tony Gilroy's 2007 drama "Michael Clayton," which also starred George Clooney.

"I think it is a really beautiful piece of work, and I am very, very proud to be associated with it and for it to be acknowledged ... it will give the Hollywood studios the courage to make more films like this."

Nevertheless, Swinton, personally, remains unmoved by industry plaudits. "I wish you got a cash prize, that's all I can say," she laughs and then says more seriously, "I'm at some point going to have to sit somebody down and ask them really what it means."

After all, this is the woman who did a stint as a living work of art sleeping in a glass case at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1995.

Pre-2000, Swinton was more likely to be found doing offbeat work with experimental directors like Derek Jarman than big-budget Hollywood movies.

She explored her early acting impulses on stage before taking her first film role in Jarman's "Caravaggio," a biopic of the 16th-century painter, in which she plays the artist's muse.

They went on to make eight films together and she wrote and directed a tribute to him, "Derek," which she presented along with director Isaac Julien earlier this year at Sundance Film Festival.

She was initially cast Jarman for her raffish looks but it is Swinton's fierce talent that caught the eye of Hollywood's bigwigs who soon came knocking at her door with offers of films like 2000's "The Beach" in which she plays Sal, the leader of an island community in Thailand.

She has also utilized her chameleon looks to explore gender roles in cinema, working with renowned British director Sally Potter on her 1992 film adaptation of Virginia Woolf's "Orlando." Swinton plays a nobleman granted eternal youth by Elizabeth I who lives for 400 years and changes sex a number of times.

She then smuggled her androgyny into the mainstream, playing the Archangel Gabriel in cult hit "Constantine" alongside Keanu Reeves.

These days, for every film like Disney's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" -- in which Swinton uses her pale-faced otherworldliness to play a chillingly evil White Witch -- she will choose an indie film like Erick Zonca's "Julia" in which she plays an out of control alcoholic who kidnaps a young boy to extort money from his relatives.

Later this month, she will be reunited with Joel Coen and his brother Ethan at Venice Film Festival for the premiere of spy caper movie, "Burn after Reading" which has a red-hot ensemble cast including Brad Pitt and George Clooney.


Among her many film projects, the festival in Nairn, her patronage of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (not to mention she has 10-year-old twins) she still somehow manages to find the time for more plans, including founding an initiative to make sure children get access to great world cinema.

"I'm just making it up as I go along to be honest," Swinton confesses of her amazing career. What will she come up with next?

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