Scottish-set zombie musical Anna and the Apocalypse to open Glasgow Youth Film Festival

Scottish-made horror-musical-comedy Anna and the Apocalypse is full of youthful, anarchic energy '“ which makes it a perfect fit for the Glasgow Youth Film Festival, writes Siobhan Synnot

Ella Hunt (centre) takes the lead in Anna and the Apocalypse
Ella Hunt (centre) takes the lead in Anna and the Apocalypse

Over the last few years the annual Glasgow Youth Film Festival has grown from a curtain raiser to the main Glasgow Film Festival in February to an event in its own right, with its own place in Scottish festival calendar.

This weekend, it runs through the movie gamut from anime to zombies, giving a new generation of passionate cinemagoers and filmmakers the opportunity to see foreign drama, animation and cutting-edge documentaries, as well as attending behind-the-scenes workshops and meeting international movie guests.

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Many of the film choices are hot off the reels previews, including the Scottish zombie feature Anna and The Apocalypse, which opens the festival ahead of its UK-wide release in November.

Finding a new subspecies to the zombie genre might sound like an impossible ask, but Anna’s gory story is also a Christmas movie and a musical. The tightly-budgeted feature also gives a breakthrough platform to ITV’s Cold Feet ingénue Ella Hunt as schoolgirl Anna, who is forced to learn how to fight, slash, and sing her way through hordes of the undead, including a zombie snowman, in order to help her friends reach their loved ones.

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The film’s director is Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduate John McPhail, who will attend the premiere and a cast and crew Q&A afterwards, where he will share stories of shooting a zombie apocalypse in Port Glasgow.

“I knew the area, and I know a lot about horror films, being a huge horror fan,” says the filmmaker. However, despite an absurdly catchy score by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly, McPhail admits that before Anna, movie musicals were as unfamiliar to him as vegetarian zombies.

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“To be honest I actually thought I hated musicals until I got this job,” says the 33 year-old Glaswegian. “So I bought a pile of them on DVD, sat on the sofa and worked my way through them. I’d never seen West Side Story before, but I loved it, so there’s a bit of West Side in Anna and The Apocalypse. I also went to see Wicked and Legally Blonde on stage, and I really enjoyed both of them as well.”

How about Disney’s High School Musical? “Everybody has their limit,” says McPhail, firmly.

Another GYFF musical choice may strike young movie fans as a window into an earlier, quainter age. Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock was once regarded as a scandalous celebration of a surly ex-jailbird who becomes a teen idol. To modern eyes, it is a U-certificate relic of an age when rock was young, yet it eerily predicts Elvis’ own career trajectory with its cautionary story of a singing star who drifts from one bad film to another, signs a terrible contract that gives 50 per cent of his earnings to a non-singing partner, and never goes anywhere without a freeloading entourage of blokes who don’t seem to do much except hang around drinking on his dime. Kids may relish this preposterous flick, where convicts jive in freshly-pressed jeans, but for goodness sake stay off their blue suede shoes.

Like any festival of cinema, the GYFF isn’t just about darkened theatres; it’s also a playground for dialogue and debate. Industry visitors include American director Crystal Moselle, who won a raft of awards a few years ago for her riveting documentary The Wolfpack, about a family of movie-obsessed brothers raised in a bubble of isolation in their New York apartment.

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Now she applies her quiet observational gifts to the adolescent tribes of Skate Kitchen, a dreamy story of female friendships, set on four wheels, where one false step can turn a kickflip into a skinned knee. Moselle will be discussing her movie, and the experience of working with a mostly non-professional cast (with the exception of Will’s boy, Jaden Smith) tonight.

As always, this year’s GYFF line-up was previewed and filtered by the festival’s team of young programmers. “We watched a feature film plus some shorts every day for a fortnight,” enthuses 17 year-old Charlotte Hatton, now into her second year of curating for the festival.

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She notes that the final choices dig a little deeper than your standard

YA blockbuster fare, sometimes offering a rare opportunity for audiences to see films like Fighter (2007), where the headstrong daughter of conservative Turkish immigrants with a talent for kung fu finds herself caught between the demands of being both a traditional Muslim and a contemporary European.

“What the films do is show that young people have a lot of strengths, and that when faced with problems and challenges they are able to overcome them,” says Hatton. “Sometimes they are not alone, and can call on friends or the help of an adult. The films show that children have resilience, which makes them quite optimistic in that way.”

“We would talk about each film afterwards,” she adds. “And if we disagreed a lot, it was probably a good film to show at GYFF because ‘Marmite’ films get you talking.”

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One of the festival’s provocations is Augustine Frizzell’s fresh, filthy, female stoner debut feature, Never Goin’ Back, about two waitresses who long to escape their dead-end town and go on a beach holiday. Most of their adventures involve the kind of gross-out humour that parents would not admire, and the girls’ conversations are peppered with iGeneration references that oldsters wouldn’t understand: but that’s probably the point.

Other films open up unfamiliar worlds, such as a study of the thoughtful fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin, who died earlier this year aged 88. Arewen Curry’s documentary The Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin captivated the young curators with its story of her struggles to get published, her determined push to write intelligent fiction for young people, and her success with the Wizard of Earthsea in 1968, reckoned to have paved the way for Harry Potter.

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“I had no idea who she was beforehand,” admits Hatton. “But you don’t have to know anything about her to enjoy the film. And after seeing the documentary I really want to read her books. What a life!”

Glasgow Youth Film Festival, Glasgow Film Theatre and Blythswood Hall, Glasgow, today and tomorrow,; Anna and the Apocalypse is released on 30 November