Dive In: A look ahead to GFF 2015

In ten short years, Glasgow Film Festival has steadily grown to be the third biggest film festival in the UK. Ahead of its 11th edition in February, we speak to its co-director, Allison Gardner, to find out what makes GFF tick

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 15 Dec 2014

“Potholing Expedition Seeks Recruits,” read an ad in Glasgow Film Festival’s 2014 brochure. “Recruits must be ready for anything, have a strong survival instinct and cope well within confined spaces. Claustrophobics should not apply.” These recruits (read: audience members) didn’t need crampons or hard hats, however, only an adventurous spirit. This expedition turned out to be a surprise screening of Neil Marshall’s 2005 horror The Descent in the caverns underneath Central Station – and one of the many highlights of GFF 2014. “We had two complaints,” deadpans Allison Gardner, co-director of the festival. “Somebody who thought they were actually going potholing, and someone who said, ‘Because it was in Central Station, I thought it was going to be a season about trains.’”

Gardner is speaking to us down the phone from GFF’s base, Glasgow Film Theatre, a few days after some early GFF 2015 programme announcements were made, including a new strand, Strewth!, showcasing the best new (and classic) Australian cinema, and retrospective Here’s Looking At You, Kid, which pays homage to Ingrid Bergman’s life and work. “We’ve refreshed the strands to make sure that we’re on the right track,” says Gardner. “We listen to what people say to us in terms of feedback, what worked, what didn’t work.”

One thing that the GFF attendees do seem to crave is unique experiences like the one above. As well as attracting big-name guests (last year’s attendees included Richard Ayoade, Jonathan Glazer and Terry Gilliam) and a diverse range of mint-fresh films (68 UK premieres screened last year), GFF is characterised by the inventive one-offs that pepper its programme, from live scores of silent classics to pop-up screenings in unusual locations. “It’s experiential cinema without the experiential cinema prices,” says Gardner when I bring up GFF’s skill at pulling off these ambitious pop-ups. “No disrespect to Secret Cinema – I’m sure what they do is very difficult – but we’re not charging those sorts of prices.” Part of the reason for these reasonable prices is a tight control on scale. “We’re not having those huge events. The max we go to is around 300, so it’s still quite intimate.”

Intimate is a good way to describe the festival overall. Despite over 40,000 admissions last year (making it the third biggest film festival in the UK, behind London and Edinburgh), it still feels playful and accessible. “When we're putting together the programme we always think of it this way,” says Gardner when I mention the festival’s feeling of inclusivity: “what’s your point of access as an audience member?”

Looking around at the crowds hanging around Glasgow Film Theatre while the festival is in full swing, you realise these access points are many. Turn up to one of those Ingrid Bergman retrospective screenings in February and you’ll find a queue of pensioners round the block; head along to a midnight screening and you’ll find a student crowd; attend during GFF’s final weekend and you’ll find a horde of gorehounds hungry for some horror at FrightFest. “The age range is really important to us,” says Gardner. “That’s about diversity of audience. And we do think we’ve something for everyone. I think it’s important that we keep hold of that ethos. I’m sure there’s not a massive age range at somewhere like South by Southwest, for example. We hope to be a bit broader than that.”

And you can see this reaching out to a wider audience in some of these latest announcements, like the Nerdvana strand, which will focus on cult cinema, gaming and comic-book culture. “It’s just about trying to tap in to those audiences that never thought a film festival was for them,” says Gardner. “But actually, of course it's for them: film is a very accessible medium.”

This last point gets to the core of GFF’s success: its focus isn’t premieres or celebrities on red carpets (although it has that too), it’s on the films themselves. Each and every screening at GFF is introduced by a member of the team, most of the time it will be by Gardner or her co-director, Allan Hunter, and every time there’s a palpable sense of excitement about bringing the film in question to the festival audience. “If you’ve got a little film that you’ve loved and cherished and you’ve nurtured it all the way through and you’ve got it on the screen, and then people come out and say, ‘Oh my God, that is so brilliant!’ – that’s the best part of the job,” says Gardner. “That validation that you’ve made the right decision, and that you’ve fought to bring something unique to people’s lives.”

Glasgow Film Festival takes place takes place 18 Feb-1 Mar