Attending the Glasgow Film Festival 2020 was an unexpected joy. I was never meant to go to the festival this year, but the stars aligned. I’d arranged to spend one month on the Isle of Skye on a workaway exchange and, due to the travel time, I’d need to stopover in Glasgow along the way. And it just so happened I’d be able to squeeze in one press screening and one full day of screenings (Tuesday 25th and Thursday 27th February) before the final leg of my journey. And all four films are reviewed at the end of this post.
Back in 2015, Glasgow Film Festival was the first time I’d travelled anywhere by myself. It was a little test run of whether I’d like it/cope and I stayed in a tiny, single hotel room. I hadn’t been to a film festival since Berlinale in 2012 with my Uni’s Drama Society, and I really loved the experience. I began to realise that I wanted to do things and go places that other people in my life didn’t want to do. So, I’d have to be prepared to do them and go there alone.
Cut to five years later and here we are again. Still by myself. Only this time, I’ve graduated from the single hotel room and I’ve become a regular in hostel dorms. And my blog has grown so much that I snagged a press pass with surprisingly minimal effort. And a second visit to the Glasgow Film Festival 2020 has only cemented my thoughts from 2015: this is, without a doubt, my favourite UK film festival.
Glasgow Film Festival 2020
Glasgow Film Theatre: The Cinema at the Heart of the Festival
One of the reasons why Glasgow Film Festival is my favourite UK film festival is that it’s a small film festival with a buzzing atmosphere and high-quality execution. The guests, Q&As and programme at Glasgow Film Festival 2020 (and in other years) are always so carefully curated, ambitious and just as good as any other UK film festival. Yet you don’t have to beg, steal or borrow your way into most screenings here. It’s a busy film festival, but they don’t have the same kind of overwhelming demand like the BFI London Film Festival, for example.
Another reason is the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT). It’s an independent Art Deco cinema, first opened in 1939, and it’s a community-driven theatre, a registered charity and the hub of the film festival. Fortunately, it’s well-loved and maintained unlike so many other cinemas from this time period that are still chugging along with little fuel to keep them going.
The film festival does screen films across other cinemas in Glasgow, but honestly, I try not to go to them. GFT is the Glasgow Film Festival for me. It has three screens and because it’s such a beautiful cinema (and I’m lazy), so I just stick to whatever films are showing here. Which is exactly what I did in 2015 and in 2020 too!
Press Accreditation at the Glasgow Film Festival 2020
I wasn’t even going to consider applying for a press pass for the Glasgow Film Festival 2020. It was only when I saw the tweet about passes and then looked at how easy it was to apply that I thought I may as well. I only had to enter my details and my blog’s circulation (20,000 pageviews a month) and that was it! I got a press pass! The fact that my blog can get me press passes will always be unreal.
As per their guidelines, I could attend any specific press screening (which isn’t many, press passes aren’t allocated for Gala screenings so they mainly just have separate screenings for those) and be automatically given tickets for up to five public screenings. I watched How to Build a Girl during their press screening as it was their closing gala film. Then, on the first day of the film festival, I watched Proxima (the opening gala film), The Juniper Tree and Vivarium during public screenings.
I loved this system so much because I really felt like I missed out on the Q&As and the general atmosphere of a film festival when I had a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019. I only went to press screenings there so the vibe was totally different. Sure, you could get free public screenings at EIFF too, but you’d need to go to the press office at around 8:30 the day the films screened to see if there were any tickets left. I totally get I’m being a choosing beggar and EIFF is a much bigger film festival. But maybe that’s why I just prefer Glasgow Film Festival, it’s smaller and that’s to its advantage.
Glasgow Film Festival 2020 Film Reviews
1. How to Build a Girl (2019) dir. Coky Giedroyc (GFT2) CLOSING GALA
Run time: 102m Language: English Screenplay: Caitlin Moran Starring: Beanie Feldstein, Alfie Allen
An adaptation of the 2014 semi-autobiographical novel by Caitlin Moran, How to Build a Girl is an incredibly endearing, coming-of-age film about fakin’ it until you make it. Discovering who you are by putting yourself out there and trying on different outfits, jobs, personas until one fits. Building yourself from the ground up, so to speak.
Beanie Feldstein plays 16-year-old Johanna Morrigan, a precocious writer living on a council estate with her loving family in Wolverhampton. The less said about her Brummy accent the better. But I will say this: at least she commits to her regional British accent. Which is more than can be said for Anne Hathaway in One Day (2011) who stuck to her Yorkshire twang for about two sentences. Her dad, played by Paddy Considine, is a wannabe rock star and her mum, played by Sarah Solemi is an encouraging yet utterly exhausted mum (so, a mum then) to two teenagers, one small boy and accidental twin babies. She enters a writing competition on a whim and by sheer grit becomes a regular freelance writer for D&ME, reinventing herself as Rock Journalist Dolly Wilde.
It’s Almost Famous (2000) mixed with Booksmart (2019) and a delightful sprinkling of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)’s magic realism. How to Build a Girl is brought right up to date with subtle yet crucial moments of grooming, self-harm mixed in with classic love tales. Honestly, if you’re not a little bit in love with Alfie Allen’s adorable Welshman rock star John Kite after this film, I don’t understand you. A must watch for every young person, or the young at heart, who needs to go balls to the wall to discover who they are. 4/5
2. Proxima (2019) dir. Alice Winocour (GFT1) OPENING GALA
Run time: 107m Languages: French, English, Russian, German Screenplay: Caitlin Moran and Jean-Stéphane Bron Starring: Eva Green, Matt Dillon
We’re not short of mainstream Sci-Fi space films starring women. Well, they exist, anyway. Sigourney Weaver has permanently etched her name into cinema history books for her portrayal of Ellen Ripley in Alien (1979). And Sandra Bullock’s starring role in Gravity (2013) won’t be forgotten any time soon. But a female astronaut working in the real-life space industry? Who is also a mother? Sometimes the truth is stranger than (science) fiction.
Proxima follows the usually stoic Sarah, an astronaut working for the European Space Agency and recently chosen for a year-long mission to the International Space Station. Sarah’s wanted to visit space since she was a little girl, and she’s finally about to realise her dream. There’s just one problem, Sarah is a mother to an adorable eight-year-old daughter, Stella, who is facing her own issues in regards to her mother’s departure.
The mother-daughter relationship in Proxima is incredible faithful. The script and the overall look of the film are raw and realistic, perfect for this intimate true-to-life story. The film makes you face your pre-conceived ideas of working mothers and fathers, which is exactly what it wants you to do. Matt Dillon’s arrogant astronaut, Mike, is able to leave his children with his wife for 12 months and that seems reasonable enough. But why not Sarah? Well, often Eva Green’s portrayal isn’t totally flattering of Sarah. I’m not sure if the film is 100% sure of what it’s attempting to communicate, but regardless. It’s a necessary film and the relationship at the heart of Proxima makes it a worthy watch. 4/5
3. The Juniper Tree (1990) dir. Nietzchka Keene (GFT3)
Run time: 78m Language: English Screenplay: Nietzchka Keene Starring: Björk, Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir
Proxima and How to Build a Girl opened and closed Glasgow Film Festival 2020 respectively, so they’re basically brand new films. But if you’ve never been to a film festival before, often they will screen older films, especially if they’re restored recently. Or if they fit into a certain programming selection. Both are true of The Juniper Tree: it’s an Icelandic film, and Iceland was the spotlight country for this year’s Glasgow Film Festival. And it’s recently been restored! So a win-win.
I’d never heard of The Juniper Tree, but the short run time meant it fit nicely in between my screenings of Proxima and Vivarium. The film stars a 21-year-old Björk, who is truly captivating as young Margit. She and her sister have recently lost their mother who was accused of witchcraft and then stoned. The other sister, Katla, uses her magic to entrance Jóhann, a farmer, widower and father to Jónas, to marry her so they can survive away from home and without their mother.
Based on The Brothers Grimm fairytale of the same name, The Juniper Tree is an utterly fascinating and captivating film. The film is heightened considerably by being shot in black and white in the desolate Icelandic landscape. The characters seem disjointed and ‘something’ seems off-kilter throughout which really makes you feel like something magical and otherworldly is afoot. It’s not a film I’ll rush back to as it takes a lot of concentration, but it’s a really brilliant piece of cinema. I love going to film festivals and watching something completely different, and director Nietzchka Keene achieved just that with The Juniper Tree. 5/5
4. Vivarium (2019) dir. Lorcan Finnegan (GFT1)
Run time: 97m Language: English Screenplay: Garret Shanley Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots
This was a particularly exciting screening as the film’s director and the star, Imogen Poots, stuck around for a Q&A afterwards. It’s always really interesting to hear more about the filmmaking process from the filmmakers themselves. I watched another film starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019 called The Art of Self Defence (2019) which was wonderfully weird. And luckily, Vivarium was more of the same.
The two stars are a young, house-hunting couple who stumble into the wrong estate agents with devastating consequences. They find themselves looking around a cooking-cutter house that is far too perfect on an estate that is too quiet. Left completely alone, the couple descends into a dystopian madness where they must raise their ‘son’, a boy thrust upon them by a ‘higher power’ in a cardboard box left on their new ‘doorstep’, before they can be ‘released.’
Vivarium is a darkly humorous, social commentary on gender roles, societal roles and the cyclical nature of, well, nature and our futile existence. It’s bonkers, of course. The film is completely stylised and the houses have a clinical, sanitised look which intensifies their crazy situation. Both the stars fully commit to maintaining their realism in this f*cked up universe, especially Imogen Poots as Gemma. She’s a carefree woman of the 21st century told she has to raise a baby she didn’t want. Who wouldn’t think that’s a horrific situation to be in… Right? 4/5
And those are my Glasgow Film Festival 2020 mini film reviews and highlights! Have you visited Glasgow or been to the Glasgow Film Festival? Let me know in the comments below!