Lessons Learned at the Glasgow Film Festival 2015

Blake Backlash on what this year’s Glasgow Film Festival has taught him.

Pepe Serna in ‘Man From Reno’

1. Glasgow’ film fans are committed

Cinema seems to be the number one priority of some of the folk I met at the Festival. They don’t fool around. Literally in some cases. As I sat down to watch Fatih Akın’s The Cut, the person next to me was telling their friend about how they had been spending some quality time with their partner just before heading out to the pictures and ‘things started to get a little… fruity, actually. But I had to put a stop to it. I said I’ve got to go and watch a two-and-a-half hour film about the Armenian genocide’.

They also love their Q and A’s. Their questions are insightful and having the chance to talk to filmmakers gets them passionate and enthusiastic. So much so that the audience are quite happy to make their own Q and As if none are laid on for them. There wasn’t one scheduled after the showing of Catch Me Daddy that I was at. But since Gary Lewis was in the audience, the audience asked him questions anyway. And Lewis was totally up for it.

2. No good deed goes unpunished (especially if you are a small town cop).

I saw two great films about police officers in rural areas.  A Girl At My Door directed by July Jung, begins with Lee Young-nam’s arrival in a small seaside town, to take up her post as police-chief. Soon she find herself looking after Seon Do-hee, a 12 year-old-girl who is bullied by her classmates and abused by her step-father. Doo-hee ends up living with Young-nam. In another kind of cop-movie this plot development might just be a way to clue the audience in on the protagonist’s fundamental decency. But this film uses it to start a painful exploration of Young-nam’s own flaws and the corrosive psychological damage child-abuse has inflicted on Do-hee. For me, the film’s insistence that we should not expect people to be righteous or pure made these characters more admirable.

Man From Reno also begins with a cop in car. Sheriff Paul Del Moral is driving through fog. He finds an abandoned car then accidentally hits a Japanese man, who he takes to hospital. Meanwhile, Aki Akahori arrives in San Francisco from Japan, playing truant from her latest book-tour. She has a romantic encounter with Akira, who then takes a shower and vanishes. One of the many delicious things about Man From Reno is watching these two plot strands unfold – it’s like you get two different flavours of mystery movie in one: rural-noir blended with a misty and glamorous San Francisco caper flick. Then, towards the end we find the film is also a kind of riff on… well, that would be saying too much. But there is darkness here. Sheriff Del Moral tries to do the right thing by the man he hit with his car and by Aki. At some cost to himself.

3. Mistakes Can Be Beautiful

One of the films in the Festival’s Ingrid Bergman stand was the 1944 version of Gaslight. The version that actually arrived in Glasgow, initially, was  Thorold Dickinson’s 1940 version which starts Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard (who is saved by a wily Northern policeman, instead of Joseph Cotten). Eventually, the right version did arrive, so Glaswegian Gaslight fans had the pleasure of seeing both the older film and the one with Ingrid Bergman in it. We are lucky people are still able to see the Dickinson version. In 1944 when MGM bought the rights to the film, David O Selznick asked that there be a clause in the contract that all of the prints of the British film should be destroyed. Dickinson himself is supposed to have sneakily made one print for himself before the negative was destroyed. Presumably all versions of his film that we see today, including the one that came to Glasgow by fortuitous error, are descendants of this surreptitiously made print.

4. If you build it,they will come


This lesson is brought to you by special-guest contributor, Matthew Turner, who writes:

I saw over 32 films at the Glasgow Film Festival this year and, as ever, I was extremely impressed with both the quality and the variety of the programme overall. However, the undisputed highlight, for me, was Buster Keaton night at the Old Fruitmarket, hosted by silent film enthusiast Paul Merton and featuring wonderful live piano accompaniment by Neil Brand. A full house of 500 people were treated to a selection of silent shorts (Keaton’s The High Sign and One Week, Chaplin’s The Pawnbroker and Laurel & Hardy’s Angora Love) before the main event, a screening of Buster Keaton’s full-length classic The Cameraman, which features some of the finest monkey acting ever committed to celluloid.

The live score was an absolute treat (The Dodge Brothers scoring Beggars of Life at the Barbican remains one of the cinema experiences of my life) and it was a pleasure to hear Merton talk about Keaton’s early career, particularly his regret at a sophisticated banana skin gag where the joke was that Buster *didn’t* slip on the banana skin, only audiences at the time apparently didn’t get it. Incidentally, Merton would no doubt be delighted that his talk inspired this tweet

Merton’s obvious delight at the huge audience turn-out (the venue was sold out) was genuinely touching and it was easy to get swept up in the happy atmosphere, with the hall constantly ringing with laughter. I’ve become rather obsessed with attendance figures and am always fascinated to see which films and events sell out at film festivals – it’s almost never the films you expect. With that in mind, the runaway success of Buster Keaton Night proves that there is unquestionably a huge audience for silent comedy (I’m going to assume they weren’t all Have I Got News For You obsessives), and I hope Glasgow has something similar planned for next year. Note to self: try to make it to The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival in Bo’ness sometime soon.

Are we doing Top Fives? Here’s mine if so.

1) A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
2) Clouds of Sils Maria
3) While We’re Young
4) Tales of the Grim Sleeper

5) Radiator

 5. Films live through an audience

When I wrote my festival preview, I suggested that the kind of films that make good Closing Galas at the Festival are those that get people arguing. And when Allison Gardener and Allan Hunter introduced Force Majeure they told the audience that it might divide us and get us talking. No wonder, when the film is about divisive talk.

After they watch an avalanche Ebba and Thomas (Lisa Loven Kongsli and Johannes Kuhnke) start to argue about what happened. She thinks he ran off and left her and their children, he tries to say he didn’t. Their arguments at first have a veneer of good humoured teasing but become more painful each time they are repeated. Two friends Mats and Fanni (Kristofer Hivju and Fann Metelius) visit them, and witnessing Ebba and Thomas, argue brings out the hidden fissures in this other couple’s relationship as well.

The film explores how relationships often depend on agreeing on how we see the world. If romantic love is about falling in love with an idealised version of ourselves, an image of who we are that we both to work to keep looking shiny, then what happens if a single event, an uncomfortable truth, tarnishes that image?

So onscreen people can’t agree about what things mean. But sharing the experience of watching a film with an audience makes one aware of differences between oneself and one’s fellow cinema-goers. I thought the film was very funny but as it went on, I found myself sitting among people who were laughing at things I didn’t find funny. At the party afterwards I kept asking people ‘what screen were you in? Were people laughing? Did you think that was supposes to be funny?’. And I heard people around me disagreeing about an ambiguous ending, about whether the character were weak or just human

Someone at the Festival had even arranged for it to snow inside the party. Now I know the snow was probably machine generated. But at times it was almost as if the film didn’t want to stay on screen. Like it wanted to get out into Glasgow, get among the audience as they drank, danced and argued. Like it wanted to join in the fun.

Well, how could it not?

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