“Well, like many a teenager we’ve grown through the years, and learnt our mistakes,” says Allan Hunter, co-director of the annual Glasgow Film Festival, which this month returns to the city for the 14th time.
Much has changed since 2005, not least how both Glasgow and the rest of the world now views the annual event. “You’re aware of people looking forward to programme announcements and what’s going to be the opening film, who’ll be coming—all that sort of stuff. So there’s a pressure, but it’s a nice pressure; there are expectations out there.”
Glasgow is just one of hundreds of film festivals taking place around the world, but Allan—who has co-directed the festival with the Glasgow Film Theatre’s Allison Gardner since 2007—believes it has a special reputation. “It’s very friendly, very accessible; it’s an audience-led festival very much about Glasgow’s audiences, Glasgow’s people. It’s always gone out of its way to be popular, unpretentious, and to embrace all of cinema.
“People have all different kinds of tastes, passions and enthusiasms, and the festival reflects that,” he adds. “So there’s the horror strand, but you might also find the latest ‘art-house’ film that’s going to make a big impression in the years ahead. We celebrate everything that cinema can offer. And we’re not precious about it.”
One feature that has become one of the festival’s trade marks is showing classic or cult films in unusual locations. In 2016, the audience for Con Air were dressed in orange prison suits, handcuffed, and bused to an empty warehouse to watch the film. Last year, 1928 French silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc was screened along with live music in Glasgow Cathedral.
This year audiences can see two of cinema’s most enduring high school romances—Gregory’s Girl and Clueless—before heading off to the “GFF School Disco”.
The audience-led ethos of the Glasgow Film Festival is clearest in its single annual award, introduced in 2015 and decided by the public. “We knew that if we were ever going to introduce an award it was going to be one decided by our audiences,” Allan says. “It’s a pretty good endorsement for any filmmaker; an award voted for by the public who bought tickets for it.’
“There’s been some really good choices that have come up over the years. Radiator was the first one in 2015, which then went on to get a British distributor. Mustang, at that point, had just been Oscar™-nominated for Best Foreign Film, while last year’s choice was Lipstick Under My Burkha. The award has really helped the profile of all of those films, and I have to say that our audiences have impeccable taste.
The first festival back in 2005 attracted around 6,000 people; the most recent have topped 42,000. Does Allan want the festival to get even bigger?
“There’s a dilemma,” he admits. “People still feel that it’s quite friendly. Allison or myself are always there, and people come up to us and say: ‘I really enjoyed that film,’ or ‘That was the worst film I have seen in my entire life!’ You don’t really want to lose that kind of interaction; the challenge is to maintain the values of the festival while allowing it to grown organically.”
WATCH OUT FOR:
This year’s retrospective strand includes films starring James Dean, Paul Newman, and Elvis Presley. “The retrospective is on at 10.30 every morning, and it’s absolutely free—first come, first served,” explains Allan. “Even if you think you can’t afford the festival experience, then there’s always this that you can enjoy.”
‘Ireland: The Near Shore’
“It’s a reflection of the fact that Ireland seems to have a vibrant industry producing lots of exciting new talent,” says Allan. “It’s a chance to look at some really great new films and also ask ourselves, in the nicest possible way: Well, why can’t we do what they’re doing?”
“People have the choice of going to see 1980’s Gregory’s Girl or 1995’s Clueless and then enjoy a “school disco” at top club SWG3 where they can dance to the music of both years. We’ll be encouraging our audience to dress up; to enjoy the films and dancing!”
Oscar-nominated composer Mica Levi joins sister video artist Francesca Levi and electronic pioneers Wrangler in the Scottish premiere of “a celebration of music, imagination and the greatest movies never made”—including The Colour of Chips, a North of England re-imagining of Sergei Parajanov’s iconic The Colour of Pomegranates.
2017 Scottish Album of the Year winners Sacred Paws make their soundtracking debut on Glasgow-based artist Margaret Salmon’s documentary on all-male speedway motorcycle team the Berwick Bandits. To coincide with the event, an exhibition of her work will run at Tramway from 16 February to 18 March 2018.
First published in The Scots Magazine, March 2018.