Glasgow Film Festival returns online in 2021

Irvine Welsh's biopic of infamous music impresario Alan McGee and a brilliant tragicomedy about a refugee trapped on a remote Scottish island are just two highlights from this year's fully-online Glasgow Film Festival

Article by Jamie Dunn | 14 Jan 2021

The 2020 Glasgow Film Festival was one of the last major events in the Scottish cultural calendar to take place before the world changed forever in March last year. With COVID-19 still raging through the UK population, the idea of sitting in the GFT with hundreds of other movie fans is still a long way off.

But you can’t keep a good festival down. With cinemas remaining closed for the foreseeable future, Glasgow Film Festival will this year be beaming directly into our living rooms via Glasgow Film’s new At Home platform. “Everyone is staying indoors and keeping safe and we are really excited that the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival can play its part in the home viewing landscape,” said GFF co-director Allan Hunter.

The programme is reduced at 62 titles (around a third of the usual programme) and the festival’s traditional strands have been removed this year, but it’s no less expansive, taking in work from all over the world. Two coming of age films bookend the festival. Isaac Chung’s much-praised Minari, which looks back on the filmmaker’s own childhood growing up Korean-American in 1980s Arkansas, kicks things off on 24 February. And proceedings come to a close on 7 March with dreamy French drama Spring Blossom, the debut from Suzanne Lindon – as well as directing, the 20-year-old stars as a teenager who forms a friendship with an older actor.

As ever with GFF, there’s plenty of Scottish talent on offer, not least the brilliant Limbo from Ben Sharrock. The first feature film to be shot on Uist, it’s a deadpan tragicomedy about a Syrian refugee waiting for his asylum claim to be processed on a wind-lashed Scottish island, and its blend of absurdism and humanism is the perfect tonic for these troubled times. Another homegrown hot ticket is likely to be Creation Stories, the biopic of Creation Records mogul Alan McGee, who nurtured the careers of The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream – and, as legend has it, ‘discovered’ Oasis at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. The infamous music impresario himself described the film as “Trainspotting does Creation Records”. And no wonder. It’s penned by Irvine Welsh and stars Ewen Bremner as McGee.

If the macho indie music water in which McGee swims isn’t your bag you might want to turn your attention to Underplayed, Stacey Lee's documentary exposing gender inequality in the electronic music scene, which celebrates both the trailblazing DJs and current innovators who are breaking down barriers in the industry today. Glasgow-based Nightwave is one of the latter spotlighted in the film. Another righteous music doc to look out for is Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché, which celebrates the legacy of X-Ray Spex singer and ‘one of the least conventional front-persons in rock history’, Poly Styrene.

GFF regular Anthony Baxter is back with Eye of the Storm, a doc following the great landscape painter James Morrison during the last two years of his life. With animation by Catriona Black and music by Karine Polwart, GFF call Baxter’s film, which is making its world premiere, a “fond, affectionate portrait of the man and his legacy.” Other must-see documentaries in the programme include two by giants of the non-fiction form. There’s Victor Kossakovsky’s dialogue-free animal character study Gunda, following a huge pig who’s about to embark on an emotional cycle of birth and death on a Norwegian farmyard. And City Hall, another epic portrait from Frederick Wiseman, which GFF call “a love letter to civic responsibility and democratic values set in the heart of Boston’s city government.” Civic responsibility and democratic values – remember them?

The fiction film offerings are similarly tantalising. We love the look of Lawrence Michael Levine’s twist-filled psychosexual drama Black Bear, in which Aubrey Plaza is reportedly brilliant as a filmmaker who gets between a married couple (played by Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon) while shooting a feature in their gorgeous lakeside home. If that ménage à trois sounds too intense, there’s always Iciar Bollaín’s feelgood comedy Rosa’s Wedding, centred on a put-upon middle-aged seamstress who decides to marry the one person she can truly trust – herself. And who could resist Mads Mikkelsen entering the Liam Neeson/Charles Bronson stage of his career in Riders of Justice, in which he plays an ex-military man looking for revenge after his wife dies in a suspicious train accident?

British coming-of-age romance Sweethearts got several namechecks from Hunter as his pick of the programme during GFF’s press launch, while Hunter’s fellow co-director, Allison Gardner, seemed most excited for Greek film Apples, which is set, coincidentally enough, during a mysterious pandemic. There’s also Kevin Macdonald’s true-life courtroom drama The Mauritanian, with Jodie Foster as the lawyer of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was arrested in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; Tahar Rahim gives a knockout turn as Slahi.

Word is you'll find another barnstorming performance in Aneil Karia’s atmospheric Surge, where Ben Wishaw is a security guard coming apart at the seams after losing his job. And Norwegian crime drama Wildland – basically an unofficial gender-swap Scandi remake of Aussie modern classic Animal Kingdom – is another must-see.

The wide-ranging lineup also includes a focus on South Korean cinema, a brace of Chinese films programmed in partnership with Shanghai Film Festival, and the return of mini-festival within festival Frightfest, which will be once again serving up movies for horror-nuts. “Glasgow Film Festival 2021 may look different to previous years,” says Gardner, “but what has not changed is the quality of incredible films from across the world that we are bringing to our audiences.” We can’t wait to dive in, and while we’ll deeply miss the hubbub of the Glasgow Film Theatre during GFF, there’s something to be said for not having to face the chilly February winds of Sauchiehall Street as we make our way to screenings this year.

Glasow Film Festival 2021 runs 24 Feb to 7 Mar, with tickets on sale at noon on Mon 18 Jan at