As the Glasgow Film Festival prepares to celebrate its tenth birthday, Alistair Harkness gives ten reasons to be excited
Gala films that set the tone
The opening and closing night films have a tendency to set the tone for any film festival and for its tenth anniversary the Glasgow Film Festival has scored a couple of winners. As the opening gala, Wes Anderson’s latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, should get the festival off to an idiosyncratic start that the rest of the programme should have no problem matching. Drawing proceedings to a close with the strange, brilliant, Glasgow-set Under The Skin, meanwhile, feels symbolic of the way the festival has thrived in its first decade by making bold curatorial choices.
River Phoenix rises from the Ashes
When River Phoenix died from a drug overdose on Halloween, 1993, his final film, Dark Blood, was only 80 percent complete. Director George Sluizer (The Vanishing) has finally managed to assemble a cut from the existing footage and will screen it at the festival and talk through its troubled history.
The return of David Mackenzie
After the underwhelming triple whammy of Spread, You Instead and The Perfect Sense, David Mackenzie returns to form with Starred Up – a bruising prison drama featuring a powerhouse performances from up-and-coming Brit actor Jack O’Connell. It’s Mackenzie best film to date, finally building on the promise of Young Adam and Hallam Foe.
American horror cinema has undergone a bit of a renaissance in recent years thanks to a group of low-budget filmmakers approaching the genre with the same naturalistic indie sensibility as the Mumblecore movement. Leading the charge has been Ti West, who in addition to directing the brilliant House of the Devil, co-starred in last year’s creepy You’re Next. He’ll be in Glasgow to talk about his career and premiere his new film, The Sacrament.
Okay, so it’s not really a word, but it sums up the way the Glasgow Film Festival has put an emphasis on making movie-going a special event with innovative themed screenings. This year sees a wealth of treats, including a potholing expedition beneath Central Station to watch a mystery movie; a fancy dress screening of Young Frankenstein in Kelvingrove Museum; a screening of Tron in a pop-up vintage arcade, and screenings of the nautically themed The Fog and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou on Glasgow’s Tall Ship. The GFF Surprise Movie is also perennial highlight.
Resurrecting a cult curio
If you saw The Empire Strikes Back on its first cinematic release in the UK, you may have vague recollections of a strange medieval-set supporting feature about a knight who returns from the Crusades and goes on a mystical quest to rescue a young maiden. Entitled Black Angel, the film was funded by George Lucas and shot at Eilean Donan castle in the Highlands, but hasn’t been seen since its original run. Previously believed lost, the film has been painstakingly restored. Director Roger Christian (who worked on Star Wars and Alien) will be on hand to introduce it.
There’s a fine selection of films for anyone looking to check out world cinema’s rising masters. Asghar Farhadi has already become the most revered figure on the circuit thanks to his Oscar-winning A Separation and his new film, The Past, will receive its Scottish premiere. Look out too for Lav Diaz’s Norte, The End of History, Mexican director Amat Escalante’s Heli and Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo – all of which were acclaimed at Cannes. Closer to home, GFF favourite Joanna Hogg consolidates her status as one of Britain’s most singular directors with Exhibition.
Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul (Jesse) gets to show another side of himself as a suicidal rock star contemplating the end on New Year’s Eve in this adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name. Co-starring Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette and Imogen Poots as similarly lost souls connecting on the last night of the year, expect a few laughs mixed in with the melancholia.
After a misbegotten detour into superhero movies with The Green Hornet, French Maverick Michel Gondry returns with Mood Indigo – a surreal drama starring Audrey Tautou as a woman suffering from an unusual illness caused by a flower growing in her lungs. Terry Gilliam also returns with The Zero Theorem, Brazila-esque existential sci-fi caper starring Christoph Waltz. And, after his innovative animated documentary Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman’s latest sees him adapt a story by Solaris novelist Stanislaw Lem about a future world in which an actress (Robin Wright, playing a version of herself) sells her digital self to a movie studio and lives on as an animated character.
Stranger than Fiction
There’s usually a good selection of documentaries at the GFF, but this year’s Stranger than Fiction strand features some particularly intriguing-sounding films about musicians and artists. In the former camp is 20 Feet from Stardom (a salute to the backing singers responsible for supplying harmonies on some of rock music’s greatest hits) and The Punk Singer (a look at Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, who was at the forefront of 1990s feminist punk movement known as Riot Grrrl). In the latter camp is Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist (about the legendary comic book artist), Drew: The Man Behind the Poster (about Drew Sturzan, designer of the iconic posters the Indiana Jones films) and Dear Mr Watterson (about reclusive Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson).
The Glasgow Film Festival runs from 2-12 February, www.glasgowfilm.org/festival