ONE of the obvious reasons why the Glasgow Film Festival has thrived over the years is its consistent, methodical approach to broadening its audience. In some ways it’s more like a whole host of mini-festivals united under one banner than a single entity. There’s a youth festival, a music festival, a gaming festival, a fashion festival, etc – each curated by experts in their field, such as comic books writer Mark Millar.
What’s striking about this is that, unlike a lot of film festivals, the different strands are mostly not genres of film – science fiction, documentaries etc – but things that have nothing to do with film. So you don’t even have to like movies to find something in the festival for you.
To preview this year’s festival, which starts on Thursday, we asked four specialist writers – our art critic, our computer games reviewer, a comics book enthusiast, and a musician (aka our arts editor Andrew Eaton-Lewis) to cast a critical eye over the sections targeted at them. How does this year’s programme measure up?
Brand new at this year’s festival is the curiously titled video game strand Game Cats Go Miaow! Starting small, there’s a lot to cram in, with a mix of games, chat, comedy, Manga, cosplay, sci-fi and dark fantasy across just five events.
Rab’s Video Game Empty (CCA, 22 February) has already sold out, laying to rest the popular notion of gamers being a bunch of loners sitting in their bedrooms bashing at their gamepads. This sounds like a night for fans to share in the joy of retro titles, classic two-player head-to-heads and gaming gags. Indie Game: The Movie (GFT, 19 February, CCA, 22 February) is the only straight film screening. This is a wonderful documentary examining the passion involved in the world of independent game development. Focusing on the small teams behind FEZ, Super Meat Boy and Braid, this is gaming as a true expression of emotion and personality through programming.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is one of 2013’s most anticipated releases but most gamers will have already played it before the GFF’s Live Review (the game is released on 12 February, this event at GFT is on 18 February), but most sci-fi nuts won’t turn down a chance to catch James Cameron’s classic on the big screen.
Video games are following a very similar path to comics in terms of their acceptance as a valid art form, rather than being “just for kids”. Their inclusion as part of a major film festival is one more step in validating games as worthy of serious discussion. Robert Florence (Burnistoun, VideoGaiden) has put together a small but interesting programme for a core audience that plays strongly to the feeling of community inherent in any passionate, knowledgeable fanbase. And while Indie Game is a fantastic and genuinely insightful film, it will probably need a bigger premiere to reach out beyond the niche audience to capture the public at large. It’s a great start, though, and we look forward to an expanded programme next year.
From the Pet Shop Boys’ reimagining of Battleship Potemkin, to Scotland’s own FOUND, Meursault and Eagleowl performing their own soundtracks to archive footage from Scottish Screen, live film scoring has become increasingly popular in recent years, and the Glasgow Film Festival has taken the idea and run with it with its annual music programme. This year, in particular, the festival is pushing the idea to new levels with Sonic Cineplex, a day of live-scored films, famous and unknown, at the Arches on Saturday. Performers include Dieter Mobius of Kluster (accompanying Fritz Lang’s Metropolis with his own score) and – the star attraction – Jeff Mills, premiering his soundtrack for Lang’s Woman In The Moon.
If that doesn’t sate your appetite, try Nevada at St Andrews in the Square on 19 February. Ruth Paxton’s 2012 film, about two lovers at a breaking point in their relationship, was partly inspired by the music of top Scottish folk trio Lau, and Lau will perform a live accompaniment to the film. Or Dark Star, John Carpenter’s 1970s lo-fi sci-fi classic, screening at CCA on 21 February with a live soundtrack by Sheffield musicians Animat.
Other events combine music and film in more straightforward ways. For example, the Calamity Jane Barndance on 17 February (at the Grand Ole Opry, where else?) is just a screening of Calamity Jane followed by a barndance. What all these events have in common, though, is a desire to turn cinema-going – something that is often a passive and solitary experience – into an active and social pursuit. I suspect these events have increased in popularity in recent years for the same reason that book festivals and cabaret nights have – the easy availability of film, music, etc, on the internet has risked turning us into a generation of housebound consumers. But where’s the fun, or the sense of community, in that? And who wants to dance on their own?
Henry Coombes is the kind of artist who can get distinguished actors to run around a freezing moor dressed in little but a bandage and set of fake antlers, baying like stags and wrestling in the open air. His breakthrough film Laddy And The Lady (2006) was an Oedipal drama about a gundog that was also a brutal satire of the demands of the art market. In 2009 he even persuaded Alasdair Gray to drop his pen for a cameo role in a costume drama about Victorian colonists and settlers (the artist Edwin Landseer and the Duke and Duchess of Bedford).
So when he takes over the Grand Central Ballroom on 18 February, as part of the Glasgow Film Festival, we’d be advised to take note. Coombes has organised a night of high art and possible frivolity, Entre Chien Et Loup, which will feature art, film and music collaborations from some sterling talents. With silent movies and live musical accompaniments, expect new techno twists on old pleasures. Rachel Maclean will team up with Errors, while Torsten Lauschmann and Raydale Dower are distinguished musicians in their own right. Coombes’ title is a rather lovely French phrase referring to the time of twilight when you can’t tell a dog from a wolf. Observers of the so-called Glasgow miracle might wonder which category Coombes’ collaborator, Mayfair gallerist Randolph Kemp Potter, might fall into. He’s hosting a Golden Ball after the event and will tell us his plans for a future Glasgow gallery. Is this a new dawn or a grim gloaming’ for the visual arts in the city?
Entre Chien Et Loup, is part of a growing commitment to artists’ filmmaking at GFF. The festival’s Crossing The Line strand will include new work by artist Stephen Sutcliffe (Outwork, GFT, 20 February), archive material from experimental filmmaker George Kuchar (Weather Diaries, Tramway, 21 February) and the world premiere of Kevin Cameron’s new film portrait of Alasdair Gray, A Life In Progress (GFT, 21 February).
Although it might have nailed its flag to the superhero mast in doing so, Glasgow Film Festival has made an obvious and well-informed decision in asking Mark Millar to curate its comic book movies strand. The Coatbridge-based writer has worked on most of America’s biggest superhero properties – his early 2000s rebranding of Marvel’s Avengers team as the Ultimates has informed the majority of Marvel Studios’ recent releases – and his new job as creative consultant on Fox’s X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises goes hand in hand with a creator-owned stable including 21st-century superhero update Kick-Ass.
He’s programmed a series of events based on his London-set comic convention Kapow! packed with talks and screenings that your average mainstream comics fan will want to see. There’s an all-day Marvel marathon featuring Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger and Avengers Assemble (CCA, 19 February), while the amiably outspoken Millar will discuss his own work – including the forthcoming The Secret Service, directed by Matthew Vaughan, and Kick-Ass 2 – with a trailer preview of the latter (CCA, 19 February). A particularly special event will be an appearance by Scots-American writer John Wagner, creator of Judge Dredd and most of the best British comic characters of the late 20th century, followed by a screening of the recent Dredd film (GFT, this Saturday).
Other more eclectic dates include a Game Of Thrones panel event, a 50 Years of Doctor Who special with screenwriter Tom MacRae (already sold out), a documentary on American superheroines entitled Wonder Women! and a personal appearance from 30 Days Of Night writer Steve Niles. Much like Millar’s work, it’s a canny line-up that will appeal most readily to the young and adolescent-at-heart fanboys, although whether that includes our own First Minister is something we’ll find out at Millar’s “geek night special” interview with Alex Salmond (Glasgow Film Theatre, 19 February). «
The Glasgow Film Festival is at various venues from Thursday until 24 February. see Spectrum magazine. www.glasgowfilm.org/festival