Protest dropped for film festival opening

A PLANNED protest outside this evening’s opening night film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival has been dropped.

The festival kicks off with The Flying Scotsman, the story of Scottish cyclist, Graeme Obree. But it was feared that film crew trade union, BECTU, might use the occasion to highlight that fact that some people who have worked on the film have yet to be paid, following the production company behind it going into administration.

There were two schools of thought: protest on behalf of those not paid or hope the film does well and is able to generate sufficient income to honour outstanding debts. On Friday, the latter triumphed.

Said Bectu Scottish Organiser, Paul McManus: “I find it deeply concerning that around half-a-million pounds of public money has been pumped into this project over ten years, and we end up with the good will and hard work of the crew being abused and exploited in such an unacceptable manner. The various agencies and production companies involved in this mess knew from day one of shooting that there wasn’t enough money to finish the film, yet they went ahead anyway. That is, in our view, a reckless waste of public funds, and we are asking the Culture Committee [at the Scottish Parliament] to investigate this.”

McManus continued: “We have [Bectu] members who are owed wages, who believe they will never see their money again, and who feel strongly that we should picket the screening. Equally, however, there are members who feel that the best chance, albeit a very slim one, lies with the film being a critical success. While Bectu is not calling for any protest or picket, we cannot rule out that some members owed money may wish to protest in an individual capacity.”

The film, which follows Obree’s remarkable record-breaking feats and is being premiered tonight, stars Scots actors Billy Boyd, Laura Fraser and Brian Cox. Jonny Lee Miller plays Obree.

At yesterday’s screening exclusively for the media, director, Douglas Mackinnon, revealed that it was to be his first viewing of the movie as a whole.

Spike enjoyed the film – it has an undoubted feel-good factor. Obree’s battle with depression is as central a theme as his cycling, and helps to show the loss and hardship endured by sportspeople in between those few rare moments of glory.

Meanwhile, if a basic journalistic guide is to tell the story from the point of view of the ordinary man on the street, then the correspondents in Iraq have failed. Despite the hours of print and broadcast time dedicated to reports from Baghdad, the quality of everyday life remains mysteriously vague to the outsider. This is corrected in a stroke by the remarkable documentary, ‘My Country, My Country’, which was yesterday screened exclusively to the media ahead of public screenings tomorrow and Thursday at the festival.

The viewer’s attention never wavers over 90 minutes of fly-on-the-wall filiming which shows the chaos of the country in the approach to last year’s elections. While scenes of mercenaries haggling over the cost of AK47s and a tough US commander weeping at the memory of an interpreter’s death are potent, the film’s strength comes from its central narrative, which shows an Iraqi GP and his family as they prepare for the ballot.

Dr Riyadh is a pro-democracy critic of the occupation; he wants open government and stability, but is horrified by the tactics of the Western troops. His effort to make sense of the chaotic circumstances is like watching an innocent man struggle through razor wire, getting ever more entangled.

This is no worthy exercise in film-making; it pulses with life and humour. Made by New Yorker, Laura Poitras, working on her own for many months in Baghdad, it has a beautiful eye and ear for human dynamics. Dr. Riyadh’s wife and daughters mock and argue with him constantly, in a funny and affectionate way. An Australian mercenary consoles another, exhausted by the heat and tension, to “think of the money, dude”. With no voice-over or pieces to camera, Poitras lets her subjects speak for themselves, and, as one of them says: “We are all going to hell”. This is a must-see for filmmakers and anyone who cares about the Middle East – that’s everybody, right?

The Flying Scotsman is being screened tonight at 2130 and 2145, both at Cineworld;
My Country, My Country is on at 2200 tomorrow and at 1730 on Thursday – again at Cineworld.