Edinburgh in carnival mood as opera, cinema and the literary world all join the arts mêlée.

After a week of the comedy, controversy and colour of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the capital has now entered the frantic, intense heart of its festival season.

Three major festivals were launched over the weekend, to add to the eccentricities and ingenuity of the Fringe. Last night saw the opening galas of both the International Festival and the Film Festival, while the Book Festival began on Saturday.

In perhaps the most glittering event of the night, a celebrity audience, including the actors Robert Carlyle and Peter Mullan, saw the British premiere of Ratcatcher. The film is the first feature directed by Lynne Ramsay and the first Scottish film to open the Film Festival since Bill Forsyth's Comfort and Joy in 1984.

Last night, Ramsay said it was a credit to Lizzie Franke, the director of the festival, that her low-budget but critically-lauded film was opening the festival ahead of more mainstream Hollywood fare. 'I'm pretty astonished, but I think it was a brave move on their part. It says a lot for Lizzie that she has made this happen,' she said.

'More than anything, I was looking forward to seeing my young cast's reaction to it, because they hadn't seen the film yet. I was more nervous about their reaction than any Hollywood film star who might come along to see it.'

The film is set in Ramsay's home city of Glasgow in the 1970s, during a refuse workers' strike, and centres on a 12-year-old boy, James, whose life is changed by a dark secret.

The film, characterised by Ramsay's cinematic eye for bleak beauty, was first praised at the Cannes Film Festival this year and it has been compared to the children's classic Kes.

Ms Franke believes last night's premiere will mark Ramsay as 'a key voice in world cinema'.

Ramsay is now working on her next film, an adaptation of the novel Morvern Callar by Alan Warner. Following the life of a young girl who escapes a dead-end life in northern Scotland for the Mediterranean rave scene, Ramsay said the film is a bigger budget work than Ratcatcher. It is funded by a number of companies, including BBC Scotland.

Last night, there were no tickets to be had for the premiere and entry to the after-show party at the Edinburgh Art School was even harder to secure as one of the most influential festivals in the film world got under way.

The 53rd Edinburgh International Film Festival will attract a selection of Hollywood stars to the city. Midsummer Night's Dream, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, Pushing Tin, with Cate Blanchett and John Cusack, Tim Roth's harrowing directorial debut about child abuse, The War Zone, and the much-praised horror film, The Blair Witch Project, are regarded as the highlights of the schedule.

The film festival, which also features a major retrospective of the work of Robert Bresson, runs until 29 August.

The Edinburgh International Festival opened with a concert by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the Usher Hall. Sir Charles Mackerras conducted and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus joined the SCO in performing Handel's oratorio Saul. The festival, which runs until 4 September, features opera, dance, theatre and discussions.

The event, which runs a week after the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, will see, among many others in a distinguished programme, a performance of Macbeth, by Scottish Opera, Sleeping Beauty, by the Cullberg Ballet, Turandot, directed by the revered director, Saburo Teshigawara, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and, of course, the closing fireworks spectacular.

In an addition to the festival scene, a new festival club was launched yesterday at the Hub, on the Royal Mile. Designed as a meeting place for all festival-goers, the Festival Club is based in the Hub's main hall.

By Phil Miller