Irish comedy-drama opens 13th Glasgow Film Festival

The European premiere of an acclaimed Irish high-school drama has raised the curtain on the 13th annual Glasgow Film Festival.

Handsome Devil's director John Butler and star Fionn O'Shea launched the 13th Glasgow Film Festival tonight.

The red carpet was rolled for out for director John Butler and Fionn O’Shea, the 21-year-old star of Handsome Devil, a coming-of-age comedy drama set at an all-boys boarding school.

The GFF secured Handsome Devil for its opening gala despite the event going head-to-head with the Dublin International Film Festival, which will instead screen it on its closing night at the end of this month.

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Butler’s film, which was snapped up by GFF after its world premiere in Toronto in September, leads a clutch of sold out events reported by organisers ahead of the 12-day event.

They include a special gala screening Lost In France, which saw another Irish filmmaker, Niall McCann, relive the mid-1990s heyday of the Glasgow indie music scene.

Also sold out are special screenings of the teen vampire drama The Lost Boys at a mystery location on the outskirts of the city and the chance to see cult horror The Thing at Scotland’s only indoor ski slope.

Doctor Who and Broadchurch star David Tennant, who leads the list of star guests due in the city for the event, will be unveiling his portrayal of the Glasgow-born psychiatrist RD Laing when the world premiere of biopic Mad To Be Normal closes the festival.

Speaking ahead of the opening gala at the Glasgow Film Theatre, Butler said he hoped the Handsome Devil - which looks at the difficulties of coming to terms with sexuality at an all-boys school - would be shown to teenagers across the UK and Ireland.

Set in modern-day Ireland, Handsome Devil focus on the unlikely friendship forged between an awkward teenager, played by O’Shea, and the star player in the school rugby team when they have to share a room together.

Butler said: “The film really came from my own days at an all-boys boarding school, but also from realising that so little has changed in the in Ireland, where single-sex education is still very common.

“You still have a very conservative mindset dominating the education system, which creates the environment that you seen in the film.

In a single-sex school, in a rugby school or in a conservative Catholic school of any sort in Ireland it is very hard if you are gay. There’s still isn’t an ‘out’ premiership football or rugby union player. I refuse to accept the idea that gay people don’t play sport.

“I’m 50 per cent of the two main characters. It’s emotional, autobiographical stuff which would’ve happened around me when I was young - being gay and being into sport, and thinking that those were two different things that couldn’t be resolved in the same person.

Butler said he had drawn inspiration from classic 1980s films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty In Pink, Dead Poets Society, but was keen to ensure

He added: “The films that I loved growing up were American high-school films. This one really sprang from wanting to work in that tradition. But I also really wanted to update the genre.

“They traditionally weren’t known for sexual enlightenment or equality. The idea that the kids have something to teach the adults is a very important part of this film. I totally believe that. There is a certain emotional intelligence that young people have that they have as they move through life. When you’re young you’re at your most open in terms of being receptive to ideas and difference. It’s nice to do a film where the teaching goes upwards.

“It’s so vital that the film has contemporary resonance. It’s very much a film for now. I’d love it if it were shown in schools in the UK and Ireland.

“I already know fourth year teachers in Ireland are trying to organise visits to the cinema to see it. You absorb a lot of the messages on film a lot more than if someone is standing in a classroom and telling you about it. It’s easier to suspend your judgement.

“The most important thing about the film is a question of identity of truth to yourself, rather than aligning yourself to any particular side. The labelling is less important than the sense of authenticity.”

O’Shea, who was 19 when he filmed his 16-year-old character, said: “John and I went to very similar schools. All the different themes in the film feel very relevant to now.

“If you’re 16 when you’re playing a 16-year-old character you are experiencing all that stuff then, but when you’re 19 you can look back and go: ‘These are all the things that were going on.’ In a reflective way, it’s easier to go back to that. I’ve always played younger characters because I look so young. I’m still playing schoolboys.”

The Glasgow Film Festival runs until 26 February.