David Lynch & Donovan

Gavin Carville watches as the cult filmaker makes the pitch for Transcendental Meditation

If the purpose of the Belfast Festival is to showcase new and unlikely events, the pairing of filmmaker David Lynch and the songwriter Donovan would seem to fulfil that remit. 

Both men are exponents of Transcendental Meditation, a technique made famous by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and now gaining credibility throughout the world. In recent years Lynch has created the ‘David Lynch Foundation’, which aims to promote that method, especially among school children, with Donovan as ‘the musical wing’.

Lynch arrives on stage first, dressed in a baggy black suit and given the kind of welcome you might expect for a rock star or sportsman. Lynch has always had that huckster-like quality and seems the perfect salesman for the cause, talking lyrically about the role meditation plays in his life and the potential it can awaken in school children. 

Lynch is eloquent and open-hearted in his belief of TM’s power and seems pained when describing the violence in America’s schools, convinced that meditation can help improve things. As he talks, his raised right hand flickers by the side of his head like a strange pulsing jellyfish, emphasising every word and almost working like a hypnotic device in itself.

A Q&A session follows with a series of clearly nervous but deferent audience members trying to explore the great man’s mind. Any sense that the director might be precious or vague about his methods is quickly dispelled as he talks openly about his work from obscure juvenilia through to last year’s triumphant Inland Empire

At one point, though, an ardent fan asks what a little-known short called Premonitions Following an Evil Deed was actually about and is met with the brief reply, ‘Just think about the title and it’ll come to you.’

Donovan is next, following a short film reminding us of the singer’s celebrity throughout the sixties. Dressed in a floppy white shirt and jeans, he runs through all the hits, including a ghostly 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' and an untitled new song which proves his power to create music hasn’t left him. 

Although many in the crowd were probably here to see Lynch, Donovan is hugely likable and easily wins a sing-along from the hard-nosed cinephiles in the audience. 

The evening ends with Lynch accompanying Donovan’s delicate guitar playing with a spoken word piece from his book Catching the Big Fish. A standing ovation is inevitable and, judging by the hordes who crowd around the book-stall, TM will gain a new set of practitioners.

If there is one question hanging over the men’s undoubted sincerity it comes when both Lynch and Donovan happily admit to working on advertisements for the fashion and drinks industries, and you do wonder how torch-carriers for spiritual enlightenment can square that with working in areas that can add little to our collective self-esteem. 

It’s the one moment when all the open-hearted talk jars slightly, but doesn’t seem to bother the crowd, who gleefully applaud Lynch when he answers that his frequent forays into advertising were for, ‘Money’.

Outside, the crowd lingers, as if nobody wants to leave, and it’s little wonder given the great men we’ve just encountered on the stage, seeming to radiate a certain warmth and kindness. It’s a fantastic start for the Festival, a genuine thrill, and hopefully the first of many memorable evenings.