Now in its eighth year, the Glasgow Film Festival returns this February for fans of all kinds of film. One of the first major events in the Year of Creative Scotland, it will include a packed programme of premieres, unique events and special guests, alongside several festivals before and within the main festival itself. Taking place in various venues across Glasgow during February, GFF allows access to a diverse selection of new and exciting films from around the world, and of various genres, months before they receive any potential UK distribution, if any.
The main festival will commence on Thursday 16th with the gala UK premiere of Your Sister’s Sister, starring Emily Blunt and Mad Men’s Rosemarie DeWitt, a captivating drama which has received great acclaim and comparisons to the likes of Woody Allen’s films since its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Tickets to either of the two screenings that night will include access to an exclusive after-party following the film. Closing gala choice Le Havre, showing on Sunday 26th, is an equally celebrated Finnish comedy drama that has enthused critics, awards panels and audiences alike during the past year.
Other gala highlights include This Must Be the Place, featuring Sean Penn as an oddball rock star in a curious blend of road movie and revenge drama, scored by a musical collaboration between David Byrne and Will Oldham. The Kid with a Bike is an acclaimed drama from directing brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, while World War II drama In Darkness is Poland’s contender in the Foreign Film race at this year’s Oscars. Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire director Cameron Crowe also returns after a long absence with We Bought A Zoo, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, with a score by Jónsi of Sigur Rós.
Speaking of music, one of the “festivals within the festival” is the Glasgow Film and Music Festival, which not only showcases several exciting documentaries on specific artists and music scenes but also live music events at various venues across the city. A returning highlight this year is Wet Sounds, an interactive ‘cinema for the ear’ event at the North Woodside Leisure Centre. In regards to music documentaries, there will be showings of Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, about the influential hip-hop collective, and The Swell Season, which follows musical collaborators, brief lovers and Once stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová during their struggle with the pressures of increased exposure and fame.
On the British cinema front, the festival features the UK premiere of Bel Ami, a literary adaptation with an apparent hint of American Psycho in its portrayal of notorious charmer George Duroy; the film stars Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas. Also on the adaptation front is Michael Winterbottom’s Trisha, a unique adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles that transfers the narrative to contemporary India, with rising stars Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed in the lead roles. There’s also How to Establish a Vodka Empire, a charming documentary filled with beautiful animated sequences, and Hunky Dory, a comedy about the staging of a musical production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, featuring music from the likes of David Bowie and Nick Drake. A celebration of Scottish cinematic talent includes Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy, and The Decoy Bride, a romantic comedy starring David Tennant and Kelly Macdonald.
GFF isn’t just about the new films. Every year a beloved actor is chosen for a retrospective, and this year it’s famed song and dance man Gene Kelly. The likes of Singin’ in the Rain, On the Town and An American in Paris will all be screened during the festival, as well as lesser known works like the Judy Garland featuring The Pirate. Outside of the Kelly strand there’s a host of lovingly restored classics and cult favourites of Hollywood and British cinema. A Night to Remember is generally considered the best film about the ill-fated Titanic voyage, while film noir favourite Laura is a genre-defining thriller. One particular highlight is the restoration of a futuristic drama called Death Watch, long unseen in the UK. Filmed in Glasgow in the late 1970s, and starring Harvey Keitel, it’s a strikingly prescient film with narrative elements that bear an unsettling resemblance to the reality television of today.
One of the GFF’s recurring highlights over the years is the FrightFest strand that operates near its conclusion, with this year’s line-up including the UK premiere of the much hyped Indonesian action thriller The Raid, about a SWAT team becoming trapped in a tenement house populated by an army of ruthless mobsters. Other FrightFest highlights include the premieres of Australian thriller Crawl and the apocalyptic The Day, starring Dominic Monaghan, as well as welcome late night screenings of beloved Hammer horror classics such as Dracula: Prince of Darkness. There’s also Corman’s World, a documentary about B-movie legend Roger Corman, a writer, director and producer known for his inventive low-budget genre pictures; the film features contributions from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Running over the 24th and 25th, you can buy tickets for each film or see all 11 of them, outside of the older Hammer films showing earlier in the festival, with the purchase of a FrightFest pass.
Amongst a focus on documentaries and independent cinema is a new strand for this year’s festival called ‘Crossing the Line’, which explores the crossover between cinema and visual art with a host of experimental and avant-garde offerings. Among the highlights of the strand are Two Years at Sea, the debut feature of the acclaimed Ben Rivers, and Finisterrae, which follows two Russian ghosts on a pilgrimage in a curiously comedic slice of surrealism.
Finally, there’s the ‘KAPOW!’ strand, returning for a second year. Curated by Mark Millar, it is a celebration of comic books, superheroes and “geek culture”. Alongside welcome showings of beloved comic adaptations like Superman, A History of Violence, The Crow and Flash Gordon are a host of talks from respected comic book and video game artists and writers. Additionally, there’s a selection of fiction and non-fiction features, including a Glasgow-set sci-fi called Night Is Day, and Ecstasy of Order, which documents a Tetris world championship tournament.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of what is on offer as part of GFF; the month of February harbours over 200 screenings and events as part of the festival. It is one of the city’s cultural highlights, and something recommended for any cinema fans. Pick up one of the various GFF brochures available around the city, and check glasgowfilm.org/festival for further details.