"Festival" A Black Comedy about the Fringe By Sevin Okyay
by Sevin Okyay
The 9th Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival was a good festival with a friendly atmosphere. The wisely chosen program included, apart from the films in the competition, a retrospective of Tahmineh Milani, Portuguese films, a section on Auteur Women (Marta Meszaros, Claire Denis, Margarethe von Trotta, Deepa Mehta), filmy by Sarah Watt and shorts.
In fact, there was another festival in the Flying Broom Festival: a black comedy named Festival on the Edinburgh Festival by American born director Annie Griffin. However, Griffin who directed the TV series The Book Group in Great Britain only focuses on the fringe of the theater festival and completely ignores the television, film, and book festivals. The film starts with a bus stopping at the center of the town from which the tiny and dedicated thespian Faith (Lyndsey Marshal) emerges and immediately starts handing out flyers for her one woman show about Dorothy Wordsworth. However, Faith is informed by fellow thespian Brother Mike (Clive Russell) that she has been given the undesired slot of 9 A.M. Brother Mike himself has a show on pedophilia in Catholic priesthood, fighting his own demons at the same time. A young and bohemian experimental theatre group from Canada is about to change the life of the frustrated wife Micheline (Amelia Bullmore), keen on design and spying on the group to protect her house that she has lent to them.
But the main emphasis of Festival is on the unnamed comedy award (most probably, the Perrier) with its competitors, jury and journalists. BBC Scotland radio journalist Joan (Daniela Nardini) is one of the latter, interviewing locals, competitors and the jury including herself and the unpleasant TV celebrity Sean Sullivan (Stephen Mangan). Sullivan, an ominous man treating everyone as bad as he could, saves the worst for his assistant, a recovering alcoholic named Petra (fabulous Raquel Cassidy). And he’s also sleeping with one of the competitors named Nicky (Lucy Punch), who does not hesitate to rehearse for her show while giving him a hand job. On the other hand, the Irish stand-up Tommy (Chris O’Dowd), who has come back for the ninth time with not even a single nomination, is not above sleeping with the journalist Joan, fishing for her vote but also having some feelings for her.
Annie Griffin managed to show the atmosphere of the Edinburgh Festival. The fact that she mostly shot on location in Edinburgh enabled her to make use of the locals and visitors as extras and have her characters mix with the crowd which helped to create a feeling of authenticity. Festival brings the excitement and hubbub of the fringe to the screen, also thanks to the camera work of Daniel Cohen. The writer/director’s mostly unknown actors (outside of Britain that is) are marvelous. But there was something that put me off a little: the harshness of the director to treat her characters. Even Faith, who seems to be her favorite (maybe because Griffin herself participated in the Edinburgh Festival with one-woman shows) is not spared from the ridicule. She may be right in despising the jury (even though she has a nice part there on the present situation of comedy), but maybe it would have been better for Festival if Annie Griffin looked more positively at the Edinburgh Festival.