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Last Updated: Monday, 8 August, 2005, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Art imitates life in Edinburgh
By Pauline McLean
BBC Scotland arts correspondent

Fringe festival office
Pretty much anything goes at the fringe festival
The world's largest arts festival - the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - began officially at the weekend.

Between now and the end of August, there'll be 27,000 performances in more than 300 venues.

But this year the fringe is captured on the big screen itself in the film "Festival".

It follows the fortunes of a number of inter-connected actors, comedians and journalists, including Joan Gerard, a fictional arts correspondent following the festival for BBC Scotland.

There's a moment in Anne Griffin's film which long-suffering residents of Edinburgh will recognise. Head down, eyes forward, a man marches down Princes Street, his only response to performers handing out flyers, a grumbled "no, no, no, no, no, no...."

Crowded pubs, closed streets

There are plenty of people - at home and abroad - who view Edinburgh Festival season in much the same way.

Not so much a festival, as an excuse for crowded pubs, closed streets and traffic chaos over the month ahead.

Others welcome the transformation of this dour and somewhat Presbyterian city into a stay-up-all-night, bright-and-brash party-animal, which would give any European capital a run for its money.

It's a joke that becomes a little strained by the end of the film, especially when it's incorporated into the film's screaming soundtrack

For the next few weeks, there's plenty to see and hear. From earnest student dramas to the world's finest orchestras.

If that's not your scene then there's always the scope for renting out your house and heading for somewhere quieter and sunnier.

Up to 27,000 performers will need accommodation before this year's festival is out.

So does Festival get it right? In parts, yes.

'Embittered comedians'

The whole film was shot last August in the thick of festival time, so there are real performers, performances and audiences in almost every shot.

The audience in Joan Gerard's daily festival show had just come from the BBC's genuine daily festival show, which might explain why their eyes were beginning to glaze over.

There is genuinely a piper on every corner - blame the influence of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo - although it's a joke that becomes a little strained by the end of the film, especially when it's incorporated into the film's screaming soundtrack.

Raquel Cassidy and Stephen Mangan
Sean and his assistant Petra are in town to judge the comedy awards

The embittered comedians too, battling for the ultimate comedy prize (a thinly veiled version of the Perrier Prize) are recognisable characters.

Hugely funny onstage. Offstage, insecure, insincere and usually, in the pub. All they want is recognition, an admiring audience and a five-star review.

The audiences, meanwhile, complain that amid all the prizes, talk of TV shows and networking, the thing that's missing is the comedy.

The enthusiastic newcomer, acting, directing and promoting her one-woman show about Dorothy Wordsworth is entirely believable.

The show goes on

Even when dumped in the 9am slot by a venue which couldn't care less, she refuses to be cowed. With no profit, no fame, often no audience, the show still goes on, morning after morning after morning.

So much of the festival is based on personal experience and so many of the performers should be seeing therapists, not audiences.

The avant garde Canadians, on the other hand, don't seem to have any motivation to be there.

Plenty of money, if you're to believe their townhouse accommodation, but little interest in the production or the larger festival around them.

And that's part of the problem. Edinburgh, of course, is not just one festival - but many festivals running simultaneously.

Fringe-weary regulars

The fringe is the biggest, but there are equally impressive programmes at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh International Film Festival and of course the original festival which spawned the fringe, the Edinburgh International Festival.

Would the starstruck receptionist in Festival really be so overawed by a stand-up comic if Hollywood's finest were staying in the same hotel?

There's a weariness about the fringe regulars which doesn't ring true.

Even those who should know better come back year after year, paying a small fortune for a small shoebox to live in. And an even smaller shoebox to perform in.

Daniela Nardini in Festival
Daniela Nardini plays Joan Gerard in the film

They don't make money, they don't find fame. But they come back every year - why? Would it be too shocking to suggest because they actually enjoy it?

Even Joan Gerard (Daniela Nardini), the woman charged with covering the festival for BBC Scotland, seems to find the whole experience a drag.

And all she has to do is insult guests on her live radio show and ask members of the public if they enjoyed the latest show they saw.

Yet she approaches it, over a goldfish-sized bowl of red wine, with all the enthusiasm of a woman covering her own funeral.

And what radio producer would swear at a reporter in front of interviewees, allow the reporter to swear AT the interviewees and even consider broadcasting live from a late night comedy awards ceremony at a nightclub packed full of drink?

Opening night elation

Festival is extremely funny but also unbelievably dark. What's missing is the lighter side of the Edinburgh Festival.

The opening cavalcade, where local schoolchildren who've spent weeks pasting together costumes wave alongside kids from Florida who've spent months fundraising to get here.

It's the elation of a first night gone well, or any night when more than six people are in the audience.

The film was shot at the last Edinburgh festival

It's the excitement of first-timers on the Royal Mile and fringe veterans getting back off the train at Waverley after a 20-year absence.

It's what makes those not born when their parents first started on the fringe, want to get their first break here.

Stand up Alison Moyet's daughter Alex, Jenni Éclair's daughter Phoebe and Richard Pryor's daughter Rain.

It's the star-spotting in pubs and restaurants. And the fact that everything on a street corner is potentially a fringe performance.

And it's the thought that it only lasts a few weeks.

By the beginning of September, the weather will have changed, the pavements will be clear of costumed actors handing out endless fliers. The festival will be over for another year.

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