The Glasgow Film Festival is poised to overtake Edinburgh’s long-running event as Scotland’s biggest celebration of cinema.
Organisers say they are “very hopeful” of breaking through the 40,000 attendance mark for the first time based on advance ticket sales for the festival, now in its tenth year and which opened last night with a sold-out screening of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.
An expansion into several new “pop-up” venues, a string of big-name guests and the advent of a third cinema screen in its historic home are all thought to be responsible for the box office boom.
Figures seen by The Scotsman show that Glasgow’s event, now promoted as the UK’s third-biggest film festival following rapid expansion in recent years, was only 5,000 attendees behind Edinburgh’s 67-year-old festival last year.
The two events insist they are not in direct competition with each other in the film festival calendar, with Edinburgh’s event traditionally a much bigger draw for industry delegates, and the GFF now directly pitched as an “access all areas” event where every ticket-buyer is regarded as a VIP.
Last night’s curtain-raiser saw the GFF stage its biggest ever opening-night party, at the Grand Central Hotel.
This year’s event boasts music, horror, computer gaming, comic book and visual art strands, as well as a celebration of Chilean cinema.
Actors John Sessions, Richard Dreyfuss and Jack O’Connell, film-makers Terry Gilliam and Jason Priestley, Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon and French fashion designer Agnes B are among the star guests lined up over the next 10 days.
Highlights of the GFF programme include Under the Skin, the science fiction film Scarlett Johansson shot in Glasgow; Starred Up, Scottish director David Mackenzie’s hard-hitting but critically acclaimed prison drama; and a new version of Mary Queen of Scots by Swiss director Thomas Imbach.
Among the significant coups for the festival are screenings of River Phoenix’s recently competed final film, a guest appearance by George Lucas protege Roger Christian for a rare screening of his fantasy Black Angel filmed in the Highlands in the late 1970s, and a low-budget horror made by Glasgow comic Robert Florence, who also curates the festival’s gaming strand.
However, some of the hottest tickets have been quirky events like a “monster mash” themed party at Kelvingrove Art Gallery, which is being used by the festival for the first time.
The Briggait, a former fish market playing host to food-themed screenings and pop-up cafes, and an old glue factory – which will be turned into an amusement arcade for the festival – will also host full houses.
Other events which sold out in advance of last night’s curtain-raiser included a series of “potholing expeditions” beneath Central Station for a screening of a secret movie; a revival of the classic horror film The Fog, on Glasgow’s very own Tall Ship on the Clyde; the return of Richard Ayoade with his new film The Double; and The Punk Singer, a biopic of Bikini Girl frontwoman and feminist icon Kathleen Hanna.
Just 68 films were shown at the first GFF in 2005, but that figure has almost been dwarfed by the number of UK premieres alone – a record 60 – in this year’s programme, which is also celebrating Hollywood’s golden year of 1939, when the historic Cosmo cinema, now the Glasgow Film Theatre, opened its doors.
Allison Gardner, co-director of the festival, said: “It is very early days, obviously, but our ticket sales are looking very healthy at the moment.