This year’s Glasgow Film Festival constantly faced the prospect of major disruption amidst the global outbreak of COVID-19, as major overseas events, most notably SXSW, fell to advance cancellations while this year’s GFF was still taking place. The organisers managed to pull off a complete edition before the axe fell, with the Scottish government now scaling back public gatherings in the days since its closing night. The virus has now been assigned pandemic status, and even more spring festivals in the UK and globally have since indefinitely postponed before any government intervention, including Tribeca, Belfast and the now independent Glasgow Short Film Festival…
Following Shell (2012) and Iona (2015), Run sees writer-director Scott Graham return to exploring characters in another relatively isolated Scottish community, this time his own hometown of Fraserburgh, a fishing town in the country’s far northeast. “I’m never sure how people from my home town are going to feel about it,” Graham says. “I think they would be the first to recognise it’s not an easy place to live.”
Speaking to us at the Glasgow Film Festival, where Run had a Scottish premiere a few weeks before its UK-wide release, Graham mentions a few audience members had travelled down from Fraserburgh to see the film early: “They seemed to really like it. They were very complimentary to the cast on the work they’d done on the local dialect.”
A feature-length expansion of one of Graham’s earlier shorts, Run is rooted in both the specificities of its Scottish setting and certain anxieties informed by American culture. It explores the malaise of thirtysomething Finnie (Mark Stanley), who has an increasingly fraught relationship with his two sons and wife Katie (Amy Manson), who was his teenage sweetheart – the pair have tattoos quoting Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’…
Glasgow Film Festival returns for its 16th edition in 2020, running from 26 February to 8 March. For the first time in GFF’s history, the opening and closing gala films are both directed by women filmmakers, with the closing night falling on International Women’s Day.
Based on Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel, festival closer How to Build a Girl stars Booksmart’s Beanie Feldstein as a young working-class woman becoming a music critic. It’s to be the first theatrically released feature in more than 20 years from English director Coky Giedroyc (Stella Does Tricks), who has worked on recent TV favourites like The Hour and Harlots. French director Alice Winocour will open the festival with her latest, Proxima, in which Eva Green plays an astronaut and mother preparing for a year-long space mission.
On International Women’s Day, every film screened that day will be either directed or written by a woman or featuring a female lead. Women directors are also the subject of Mark Cousins’ 14-hour documentary Women Make Film: A New Road Movie through Cinema, which will be shown in five instalments. Overlooked gems from the past from directors Joan Micklin Silver, Larisa Shepitko, Euzhan Palcy and more will screen in support.
With nine world premieres, 10 European premieres, 102 UK premieres and 39 Scottish premieres to choose from, as well as retrospectives, talks and immersive events, choosing tickets wisely can be difficult. Here are 10 highlights from across this year’s bumper programme…
Misleadingly marketed as an erotic thriller by Miramax, Exotica proved a notable box-office success for a Canadian film when it was released a quarter of a century ago. It was a commercial breakthrough for its Cairo-born writer-director Atom Egoyan, following well-regarded arthouse titles such as Speaking Parts (1989) and The Adjuster (1991). Nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and recipient of eight Genie awards (Canada’s equivalent of the Oscars), Egoyan’s film remains one of Canadian cinema’s most enduring and influential titles, and – along with The Sweet Hereafter (1997) – the director’s most highly regarded feature.
Set primarily around the fictional Exotica strip club in Toronto, the non-linear narrative – in which Egoyan withholds many of the specifics of characters’ relationships until the very end – concerns the intertwining lives of Francis (Bruce Greenwood), a tax auditor; Christina (Mia Kirshner), a young dancer; Eric (Elias Koteas), the club’s DJ; Thomas (Don McKellar), a pet shop owner; and Zoe (Arsinée Khanjian), the club’s pregnant owner.
Exotica is largely about loss, mourning and the effects they have on human connections; how people’s attempts to cope with extreme, often concealed grief manifest in outwardly disturbing personal rituals. The final scenes are among the most emotionally cathartic of 1990s cinema, drastically reconfiguring your understanding of previous events, while also opening up many unsettling questions. Far from a shallow puzzle narrative, the film’s power only grows with repeat viewings.
With 2019 marking the film’s 25th anniversary, I spoke to Atom Egoyan about Exotica’s production and legacy while he was at this year’s BFI London Film Festival to give a career talk and support his new film, Guest of Honour. Our conversation spoils one narrative reveal from Exotica’s finale…
“I feel like it changes all the time. You’d think I’d have a roll-off-the-tongue synopsis by now, wouldn’t you?”
Australian writer-director Mirrah Foulkes has just been asked how she’s describing her tonally peculiar debut feature, Judy & Punch, not long before its bow in UK cinemas nationwide. “I guess I’m describing it as a dark and twisted 17th-century fable about puppeteers that’s very unexpected and hopefully not like anything you’ve seen before. I was really excited by the boldness of it.”
Judy & Punch doesn’t draw much from the historical origins of the traditional Punch and Judy puppet show, with Foulkes instead using the narrative of the show as a point of departure for a new tale, one re-imagining what might happen if Punch’s wife Judy were to not take his violent impulses in quite so submissive a fashion…
Until going up the jungle in The Lost City of Z (2016) and now into deep space with Ad Astra, the films of American director James Gray – from Little Odessa (1994) to Two Lovers (2008) – all told stories of New York, with many focusing on immigrant families. His 2013 ode to classical melodrama, The Immigrant, was the culmination of that interest.
Set in 1921, it sees Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) tricked into a life of Manhattan burlesque and prostitution as she tries to fund the release of her ill sister, who has been confined to Ellis Island. She also finds herself caught in a toxic love triangle between Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), the charmer pimp who got her there, and his chivalrous magician cousin, Emil (Jeremy Renner).
Featuring contenders for Cotillard and Renner’s career-best performances, reliably magnetic work from Phoenix, and cinematography from Darius Khondji that simultaneously evokes 19th-century painting, silent cinema and the 70s highpoints of Godfather cinematographer Gordon Willis, The Immigrant is a beautiful and devastating slow-burn drama. Its closing act, particularly the lingering final shot, must count among the finest American filmmaking of this decade.
So, why was the film never released in the UK?
British writer-director Shola Amoo’s second feature, The Last Tree, is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film set in the early 2000s. It centres on a young boy named Femi of Nigerian descent who’s being fostered by a white parent, Mary (Denise Black), in Lincolnshire. As Amoo explains: “The story starts when his biological mum (Gbemisola Ikumelo) picks him up, takes him to south London to live with her, and we follow his trials and tribulations as he tries to find his identity within a new culture in a multicultural London.”
“There are elements of the film taken from my life,” Amoo says of his connection to the narrative, which charts the journey of Femi into his teens. “The rest is amalgamated with other experiences I’ve heard around foster care, and friends who’ve dealt with this idea of double-consciousness: being of one community and living within another. It’s all woven together.” That sense of struggling with the values and culture of an unfamiliar community also extends to Femi’s experiences of visiting Lagos, where his biological father lives…