Celluloid city: Glasgow's film festival may soon challenge Edinburgh

The Glasgow Film Festival, becoming more impressive by the year, may soon see the city challenge Edinburgh's claim to being Scotland's cinematic capital

• Scottish star Tilda Swinton in I Am Love.

SIX years young, the Glasgow Film Festival rolled out its 2010 programme of films yesterday, with a typically impressive line-up.

With 120 features in 18 locations in the city, ranging from a mobile caravan cinema to an old abattoir, the festival kicking off next month may not find a hit to rival last year's global premiere of In The Loop but some critics are wondering how long can it be before this energetic upstart on the festival circuit starts to give auld Edinburgh a run for its money?

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The Glasgow festival opens on 18 February with a gala screening of French comedy Micmacs, with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet – of Amelie fame – expected to attend. Boasting more than 200 films and events, the event closes ten days later with the global premiere of Legacy, a film that underlines Glasgow's aspirations as an increasingly desirable location for film-makers.

Set in Brooklyn, Legacy was actually shot in Glasgow, which stood in for the mean streets of New York. It stars Idris Elba, the British actor who found fame as unflappable gangster Stringer Bell in the American cult crime television series The Wire. However, his work commitments mean he is not on the guest list.

The GFF and the Edinburgh International Film Festival are different beasts. Glasgow has a budget of just 200,000; it doesn't even claim to be "international" in its title. It is squarely aimed at bringing new films to local audiences and has few pretensions to make waves with a world audience. It draws close to 30,000 people.

The EIFF, running since 1947, has a rich history, as well as an annual budget of well over 1 million, plus cash injections from the UK Film Council.

And it boasts loftier goals, too. Its stated aim in recent years is "discovery" – finding both new films and new industry talent – and it aims to be a showcase for the film trade, as much as local film-goers. It has an audience of about 50,000, but cites hundreds of delegates from "the industry" that assemble in the Scottish capital, along with the world's press.

"We are entirely different festivals and we can work together. Edinburgh is a festival of discovery, and that's quite a difficult job," said Glasgow's co-director Allison Gardner. "We are focusing on the public, where the films meet the audience. They interact with the industry, and we would never dream of doing that."

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But Edinburgh, by aiming higher, may also make itself look vulnerable. The Scotsman's film critic, Alastair Harkness, says that after a shaky start, Glasgow has a democratic, friendlier feel. It can afford not to worry if it doesn't get the big premieres.

"Glasgow is a really nice, audience-friendly festival," he said. "The effort they put in to making it that way has really paid off. Edinburgh is much more interested in being taken seriously by the industry, and it has tried to position itself as the Sundance (the renowned US festival for independent films] of Europe. I don't think it's really living up to that yet."

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Glasgow's line-up this year includes what staff say is a "handful" of world premieres, nearly 50 UK premieres and more than 70 films being seen in Scotland for the first time. It runs from the UK premiere of I Am Love, starring Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, beloved of audiences in Hollywood blockbusters and indie films alike, to the international premiere of Rabbit Without Ears 2, starring German hearthrob Til Schweiger.

There is also a retrospective of films by debonair Hollywood star Cary Grant, and a tribute to the classic director Akira Kurosawa as part its "country focus" strand on Japan. The guest list runs from actor James Earl Jones, best known as the voice of Darth Vader, to award-winning Scottish director Kevin MacDonald, of Oscar-winning Last King of Scotland fame.

With a relaxed approach to stars – they may show up, they may not – Glasgow's opening nights are democratic affairs, where a ticket to the screening also gets you into the after-party, rubbing shoulders with the big names.

Edinburgh, by contrast, proves its credentials with the trappings of the international scene from a costly Hollywood public relations agency to parties with VIP areas where "the talent" can take shelter from the public.

Glasgow undoubtedly got lucky last year with In The Loop, a brilliant coup as its opening night film. It held the European premiere of the biting political comedy, with Scottish actor Peter Capaldi and director Armando Ianucci topping the guest list for the evening.

Last year, Edinburgh could claim discoveries of films such as Moon, or The Hurt Locker, which it help launch internationally. It has hosted stars such as Keira Knightley and its patron for several years has been Sir Sean Connery. It boasts the Michael Powell Award for British film, with an influential judges' panel, and its move to June from August two years ago is rated a success.

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But higher standards make it easier to fall flat – as did last year's opening film, Away We Go, when the glamour factor was decidedly lacking after director Sam Mendes turned up without his wife, Kate Winslet, to grace the red carpet. Edinburgh has a long track record of drawing talent, but if the stars don't show, the media complains.

Asked if Glasgow could emerge to rival Edinburgh, the director of the Cambridge Film Festival, Tony Jones, is sceptical. "I wouldn't subscribe to that idea just yet," he said. "Micmacs, for example, showed last year in the London Film Festival; it doesn't count for much in the premiere stakes.

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"You've really not got to challenge Edinburgh film by film, but do something completely different," he said, suggesting ideas such as looking for edgy new venues.

Glasgow may be benefiting from the increasing struggle of small film-makers trying to get their work into cinemas, except in festivals; it had 800 films submitted this year from round the world.

• Micmacs, the opening gala film

The buzz on the west coast – with actor Gerald Butler working as an ambassador for its film locations, including the 2.5 million Film City development – could be a wake-up call for Edinburgh.

For years, the EIFF has been pushing for a new film centre, a showcase hub to stage the big premieres. That project has been repeatedly delayed. Instead, it has to use the loveable but cramped Edinburgh Filmhouse, or the efficient but soulless Cineworld multiplex outside the city centre.

The EIFF's artistic director, Hannah McGill, is careful to play down any rivalry. "Generally we are big supporters of Glasgow and we think the more cinema culture there is in Scotland the better. They are quite different proposition from us, we are more industry facing, and they are a great audience festival."

The message is the same from her Glasgow counterpart, Allison Gardner. But while Glasgow has far to go, it comes with a note of a newcomer on the rise. "Scotland's not a village, it's a big country, and it can handle two world class festivals," she said.

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• The Glasgow Film Festival runs from 18-28 February. For more information, log on to www.glasgowfilmfestival.org.uk


A COMIC invasion of US acts hits this year's Glasgow International Comedy Festival , with 360 shows across 18 days in March.

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US comic Bill Burr, who has performed alongside Ricky Gervais and is a veteran of the David Letterman and Jay Leno shows, makes his Scottish debut.

Eleven US acts range from the stand-up Todd Barry to Marc Maron, host of the US version of Never Mind the Buzzcocks and the Tony Award-winning comedian Stephen Lynch, who starred the Broadway adaptation of The Wedding Singer.

Now in its eighth year, the festival – which opens on 11 March – has 109,000 tickets on offer this year, up 5 per cent.

"Every year we set the bar higher, and every year we better the year before," said Tommy Sheppard, director of The Stand Comedy Agency, the company behind the festival.

The festival includes well-known Scottish staples such as Craig Hill and Mark Nelson, as well as Glasgow's Des McLean. Other top names include Frankie Boyle, pictured second top, Dara O'Briain, Paul Merton, Jerry Sadowitz, pictured third top, Jimmy Carr, pictured below and Stewart Lee.

There are 42 venues hosting events, including the King's, Citizens and Tron theatres, as well as the Clyde Auditorium – a return for Carr and a first time for McLean.

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The Old Fruitmarket hosts a reunion of Fred Macaulay's The Funny Farm, plus Edinburgh Fringe stalwart Andrew Maxwell, and Radio 4 favourite Marcus Brigstocke. The festival is sponsored by Magners Irish Cider.

• The Glasgow Comedy Festival runs from 11-28 March. For more details on the festival's line-up, log on to www.glasgowcomedyfestival .com