Glasgow is a beautiful city that hosts a vibrant film festival every year. Three MostlyFilm writers were there this year, and they’ve written about it.
THE VETERAN’S PERSPECTIVE
BY DONNA SWABEY
I’ve been a regular attendee at The Glasgow Film Festival for the past five years or so, and this is the first time I decided to take the duration of the festival off work and jump in with both feet. Apart from emerging chair-shaped and half blind, I had a great festival. My method of choosing films is always somewhat erratic, and I tend to be heavily influenced by the blurb in the programme. I enjoy seeing classics on the big screen, but like to take a chance on films never likely to be screened again in the UK. All in all I had a fairly good hit/miss ratio this year. And I only turned up at the wrong cinema once.
My film of the festival was Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves, an homage to silent cinema, screened in The Academy ratio of 1.375:1 and winner of 10 Goyas in its native Spain. This retelling of Grimm’s Snow White, complete with seven adorable bullfighting dwarves (!) knocks the socks off recent silent blockbuster The Artist. The expressions of the lead actors, the close-ups, the transitions between scenes and the traditional music were all perfectly pitched, creating a fantastical, and emotional, experience. At the time of writing this masterpiece does not yet have a UK distributor. Who do I have to bribe?
The Devil’s Plantation is a film by May Miles Thomas, based on a website she created with the help of a Scottish Arts Council’s Creative Scotland Award. The book is based on Harry Bell’s book The Secret Geometry of Glasgow, and leads the viewer on a mystical wild goose chase around the prehistoric communication lines of Glasgow. Narrated by Kate Dickie and Gary Lewis, Bell’s theories are combined with the casenotes of Mary Ross, an ex-patient of Leverndale Psychiatric Hospital, and walker of the streets of Glasgow. Miles Thomas filmed all over the city in black and white, and uses Bell’s theories to create a magical overview of Glasgow, stripping away the layers of tenements and modern civilisation. The film compels the viewer to take a long walk around the streets of Glasgow, looking for the lost soul of the city. The film will soon be available online – but it also deserves a cinematic release.
Just as compelling was The Fifth Season, a Belgian film based in a farming village where a regular winter ritual fails, leading to an apocalyptic eco-disaster starting with the death of a visiting apiarist’s bees. A palette of muddy, washed out brown and grey, emphasises the bleak outlook for the community. Feral teenagers exhibit animalistic behaviour, and as the film progresses, the farmers are exposed to the dire consequences of the failure of burning Uncle Winter. The Fifth Season is eco-horror at its best.
One day I went for the arse-numbing seven-hour double bill of Heaven’s Gate and Cloud Atlas. Surprisingly, no naps were taken during either film. I’d never seen Heaven’s Gate before, and given its notoriety, decided that I had to. A depressing Western, loosely based on the events of the Johnson County War, this is cinema at its most epic, and if you have a large screen at home I’d recommend giving it a shot. The dance and roller skating scenes are hard to beat. I read the book Cloud Atlas some years ago, and although my memories of it are sketchy I was disappointed to hear that it was being made into a film, as I was of the impression that it was unfilmable. I was proved wrong. Scenes from the film were set in Glasgow (doubling for San Francisco), and the Glasgow Film Festival audience claimed it as their own.
The only true stinker I saw was Davide Manuli’s The Legend Of Kaspar Hauser. Drawn in by the presence of Vincent Gallo and the legend of the German youth who claimed to have grown up in the isolation of a darkened cell, I had high hopes. Soundtracked by Vitalic, the film opens with a white cowboy-suited Gallo saluting the heavens while UFOs fill the skies. Unfortunately its all downhill from here though, with a heavily improvised “script” and almost no plot to speak of. Even Gallo’s charisma can’t save it. Shame, that.
I hadn’t planned to see Good Vibrations, as I expected it to be on general release before long, but I acquired a guest ticket after sitting through a Brazilian film with no subtitles (Southwest: I quite enjoyed it, all things considered). This was the emotional highlight of the festival for me, and the only film that made me cry (I am a notorious weeper). Punk, The Troubles, and musical passion are a heady mixture, and I fell for it hook line and sinker. I am of the generation that listened to John Peel secretly under the covers at bedtime as a teenager, and Terri Hooley’s story brought some of that back to me. I LOVED it. A MUST see when it comes out at Easter time.
I’m bereft now that it’s all over, and reality bites, but I’ll be booking my holidays for next year just as soon as I know when the Film Festival will be held in 2014. Can hardly wait.
THE SOPHISTICATED LONDON CRITIC’S PERSPECTIVE
BY MATTHEW TURNER
I’ve been going to the Edinburgh Film Festival as a film reviewer for the last 12 years, but this was the first year I’d decided to attend the GFF. There were a number of different things that prompted that decision, but chief amongst them was the line-up – the GFF had a London press launch for the first time this year and at least five as-yet-unscreened (to me, anyway) films leaped out immediately. Those films were Stoker, The Place Beyond The Pines, The Look of Love, Populaire and Byzantium, but the rest of the programme was both varied and intriguing, so the decision was made almost instantly.
Something that was drilled into me early on was that Glasgow was a festival for audiences. This was in evidence at every screening, with artistic co-directors Allison Gardner and Allan Hunter constantly encouraging rooms full of people to tweet or generally spread the word about the films they were seeing, whether they loved them or hated them. There was an exciting moment when, after relentlessly pimping the wonderful Blancanieves across a variety of social networks, I discovered that it had sold out and was briefly thrilled by the idea that that might have all been down to me… until someone told me that they’d moved it to a smaller auditorium. Still, by all accounts, that particular screening went down a storm, as I believe Donna has attested.
There are no press screenings, so journalists sit with paying punters – another testament to Festival’s focus on the audience. I have to say that the various Q&As I attended as a result were excellent – Maria Sadowska’s Q&A for Women’s Day turned into a passionate discussion about the evils of Wal-Mart, Joss Whedon was…well, exactly the way you hope he would be during his closing night Q&A for Much Ado About Nothing and The Alarm’s Mike Peters did a three song set during his entertaining Q&A for Vinyl, based on his true story.
Glasgow also puts on a wide variety of interesting events, though I ended up seeing so many films that I didn’t actually make it to any of them. That said, the Calamity Jane Barn Dance was apparently a roaring success (note to self: book early next year) and I really wish I’d made it to Alex Salmond’s Geek Night Special, where Scotland’s First Minister unveiled a mystery film and had a discussion about it with both the audience and Mark Millar. His choice proved intriguingly controversial – he went with John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, comfortably one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. However, I have to admire his choice – he could easily have gone for something safe like, say, Shaun of the Dead, which everyone loves, but to pick an obviously unpopular movie (even the imdb only has it at 4.8/10) shows proper character and lived up to the promise of the night. By all accounts, it paid off too, generating an apparently highly entertaining discussion after the film (based on the Twitter reaction I saw on the night, anyway).
I’ve done some totting up and it turns out that although I saw 25 films at the festival itself, I’d also seen another 30 films in the line-up. Obviously it would be crazy to attempt to write up all 25 (never mind all 55) films, so here are the top five films I saw while I was there.
2) Women’s Day
4) Side Effects
Other highlights, both from films I saw while I was there and films I’d already seen: Wadjda (one of my favourite films of the year), Blancanieves, Compliance, Love, Marilyn and The Look of Love.
Oh, and one other thing. Glasgow knows how to do a Surprise Film. Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers may not have been to everyone’s taste, but everyone agreed it was an inspired choice for a Surprise Film. I heard the film described as “either a stupid film that’s pretending to be clever or a clever film that’s pretending to be stupid” and that works perfectly both ways round. All I know is that I had a big stupid grin on my face the whole way through it.
THE ENTHUSIASTIC AMATEUR’S PERSPECTIVE
BY BLAKE BACKLASH
My film festival began with a thrillingly long opening shot. Sergei Loznitsa’s In the Fog opens with us looking at the Russian landscape. Four men walk across the frame and, as we follow them, we start to understand something of where and when we are (Russia, the Western Front, during WWII). The camera takes in the men and the police station they are being hanged at, observing both Russians and Germans. A train is emptied of its cargo on tracks nearby, a German officer has his boots cleaned, someone plays a mouth-organ. It’s a bold and striking way to depict the incident and its various dimensions: the way people are caught up in the world around them, the way death can be both tragic and everyday. All of this before the first cut of the film. I was only ten minutes into my second time at the Glasgow Film Festival, and I had already been reminded of why I was glad the Festival existed.
Another long take kicks-off Gangs of Wasseypur: Part One – albeit a flashier, more energised one that hurls the audience into the middle of an assault on a gangster’s headquarters. I saw the film in a double bill with Gangs of Wasseypur: Part Two – so by tea-time on that day, I’d been propelled through three-generations and over sixty years of Indian gang violence. And I had loved every moment of it – not one frame in either film had left me bored, despite their combined running time coming in at almost six hours. The two of them felt powered by an intoxicating mix of Sergio Leone and Indian pop-music. The lyrics for every song that you hear appear on screen – and they’re deliciously vulgar. I don’t think I’ve been so happy to read so many variations of the word fuck since I sneaked a look at my mother’s Erica Jong novels when I was fourteen. During the break between the two films, I was enjoying how giddily happy they were making me, when the Festival delivered an extra treat: I spotted Kevin, the cleverest Egghead off of Eggheads, at the concession stand, buying some munchies to see him through another two and half hours of homemade pistols, weird nicknames and crackling, bravura direction from Anurag Kashyap.
After that, as you can imagine, I needed to calm down. Well, what I saw next was my festival highlight, and a much more settled feeling film – though one that was not without some bloody moments of its own. I’d not seen an Apichatpong Weerasethakul film till the lights went down and Mekong Hotel lit up the screen. The first thing we see is a guitar lesson (or maybe it’s an audition) and some really delicate, beautiful music is being attempted by the man with the guitar. Then, as the music continues on the soundtrack, we watch two people talking about a dead dog (or maybe flirting about a dead dog) on a balcony overlooking the Mekong river. Just as I was settling into what I thought was the film’s contemplative rhythm, the film cut to something (literally) extraordinary happening. I don’t want to say exactly what that was, for fear of blunting the impact of the scene for you. So maybe I’ll just say that, even though I try to avoid the temptation of using the word visceral when I write about films, it might just be appropriate for such a sudden, chewy appearance of… well, actual viscera. Nevertheless, the film retains a gentleness, and the closing moments, where we watch of jet-ski riders on the Mekong and listen to that guitar music, left me feeling rested, like one of those moments of happiness you sometimes get on your best holidays.
On the last day of the Festival, I saw Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me. I love Big Star’s records but it had been a few years since I had sat down and played one all the way through. A mistake I corrected not long after I woke up (hungover from the Festival’s closing-night party) the next day. So, there needs to a caveat somewhere around here about how I am the kind of person this film is made for. But what impressed me about it was the way it reconnected me not only with my love of Big Star, but with my love of music itself – something that I think reflects well on the love that the film-makers, and the people they interviewed, had for the band. Going by the atmosphere in the auditorium, I don’t think I was the only person to be touched in this kind of way.
The film was introduced by Norman Blake of the fantastic Glasgow band Teenage Fanclub. Blake appears in the film as well, talking about the influence Big Star had on the Fanclub and other Glasgow bands. So my head full of the connections formed between musicians in Glasgow and the bold, fragile, soulful pop-music made by Big Star in Memphis, as I stepped back into the Glasgow night after the film was over. Now, I’ll admit I was maybe a little tipsy from the two glasses of fizzy wine the festival had provided for the audience. But I started to reflect on what it was that can make a film festival work. And I concluded that it was something to do with connections: the way films can be connected to a city in often unexpected ways, and the way audiences can connect with film-makers – after all, festivals are one of the few places the two groups can mingle, buy each other drinks and snog one another. And I was left with a sense how films are not just celluloid or digital texts, made from putting images together… they are also things that live as experiences, things that connect us up to the strangers around us, to bits of ourselves, and to the city and the world we inhabit when we see them. That’s a truth that the Glasgow Film Festival insists upon, and that’s why I love it.