A new short film made at this year’s Fringe as part of a campaign to “defend” the city from gentrification, overtourism and “festivalisation” describes the event as “a spectacular exercise of lies, hype and profiteering”.
An Edinburgh-based artist and filmmaker was commissioned to create the film, which claims the Fringe has nothing to do with its residents and describes the prospect of a day at the event as “economically absurd” to many of them.
Backed by author Irvine Welsh, Bonnie Prince Bob’s film - entitled There's no Edinburgh in the Festival - claims the Fringe has gone from being “a genuine anarchic bohemian bonanza” to a “battleground for big business” dominated by corporate slogans and sponsorship.
The six-and-a-half-minute-long film, which was entirely funded by the new Citizen campaign, was made during the first week of the “annual occupation” of the Fringe.
It bemoans giving over public space to “liquid lounges” staffed by “exploited musical theatre cadets” and pop-up food stalls he says are more suited to Wimbledon.
It describes how the city centre has been “transformed into a citadel of wealth” and brands the Old Town as “a gaudy theme park where tourists taking a break from Harry Potter tours will happily pay £8 for a coffee and a flapjack.”
The filmmaker turns his fire on the city council, accusing it of being “complicit in the wholescale destruction” of Edinburgh and embarking on “acute class cleansing and rampant gentrification”.
Introducing the film from Bristo Square, he says: “There’s nothing funny about the Festival. Here we are again at the world’s biggest annual PR exercise. Should we proclaim the success of the event before it’s even begun? Why not?
“Let us gather in praise of the capital of capital and bathe in the statistics of another year of bumper ticket sales. More shows, more performances, more tourists, more revenue.
“But more revenue for who? Who benefits? It is a spectacular exercise of lies, hype and profiteering. It’s not something by Edinburgh, it is something done to Edinburgh.”
Bonnie Prince Bob claims the “eye-watering costs” of appearing at the Fringe means it is now avoided by many performers and companies.
He adds: “It has nothing to do with inclusivity or accessibility – the favoured buzzwords of the corporate apologists paid handsomely to market the event globally and deflect the from the increasingly legitimate complaints as to its actual benefit or purpose.”
Mike Small, spokesman for the Citizen campaign, which was launched in April, said: “The film is entirely Bonnie Prince Bob’s artistic take, but we commissioned the film from him and we stand by it.”
City council leader Adam McVey said: “For over 70 years the festivals have evolved, and Edinburgh has evolved with them. With their success of course comes inevitable pressures for us to manage them.
"I hope it’s not escaped anyone’s notice that in leading the debate on a tourist tax and powers to control short term lets that our council is looking to get the tools we need to manage things more effectively and get the resources to do it
“However what’s clear is that the people of Edinburgh still love our city providing the setting for the world’s cultural talent.
"We know that two thirds of residents attended an Edinburgh festival show in the last two years, with 72 per cent of residents believing festivals make the city a better place to live.
"The explosion of shows and culture during August is for everyone’s benefit. Every citizen. It’s important that our festivals go beyond the city centre and into our communities, bringing the benefits of the festivals to as many people as possible.
"Each festival has specific community programmes aimed at improving engagement, participation and satisfaction levels and we’ve seen that the partnerships with our schools and other community groups has helped make the biggest cultural event on the planet genuinely inclusive."