Weird on top

GFF diary days 9&10: Tom Geens, Kate Dickie, Miranda Pennell, Tyler MacIntyre, Frightfest and more.

by Jennie Kermode

This whole world is wild at heart
This whole world is wild at heart Photo: Ingrid Mur

Thursday morning at the Glasgow Film Festival was catch-up time for many attendees, with second screenings of several of the festival’s most popular films. There was also a chance to see Hitchcock/Truffaut, a documentary about one of the most influential books in the history of cinema, François Truffaut’ analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s work – we discussed it with director Kent Jones last year.

Tom Geens and Kate Dickie
Tom Geens and Kate Dickie Photo: Stuart Crawford

Later in the day, a packed screening of Couple In A Hole made a big impression on viewers and was followed by a Q&A with director Tom Geens and star Kate Dickie. Like several such sessions this year it made the staff nervous as good questions kept on being asked and they had to work out how to persuade everyone to leave so that the audience for the next film could come in. That was The Ones Below, a thriller which turned out to be a bit of a Marmite film – overall it was the most popular of the day but some viewers loathed it.

Also on in the early evening was The Host, a very personal documentary which presents a slice of Iranian history and the story of a petroleum geologist’s search for the origins of civilisation. Director Miranda Pennell, better known for her art exhibitions, charmed the crowd and happily answered questions afterwards. Later in the evening the festival focus remained on small, personal stories illuminating the wider world, with documentary Cain’s Children exploring the lives of three Hungarian men who killed people when they were very young, whilst poetic Argentinean feature Dog Lady told the almost entirely non-verbal tale of a woman choosing to live out in the wilds with a pack of affectionate hounds.

Miranda Pennell talks The Host
Miranda Pennell talks The Host Photo: Stuart Crawford

The big event of the evening was a special screening of David Lynch’s Wizard Of Oz-inspired road movie Wild At Heart in St Luke’s, the converted church which GFF team members were referring to as a ‘chapel of love’. It opened with a special performance by Elvis impersonator Danny Allan, and there was a special menu of Southern fried snacks on offer. Outside, the billboard boasted “You got me hotter than Georgia asphalt.” We can’t confirm or deny that one, but everybody seemed to have a good time.

The following day, a good quarter of the festival space was set aside for horror. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? wasn’t officially part of the Frightfest programme but, showing in the same screen beforehand, seemed to provoke similar reactions in viewers, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s vicious sparring as impactful as ever. Frightfest itself – sold out as always – was said by several attendees to have its best line-up to date. There was some disappointment that The Cell had become unavailable at the last minute but it was replaced by Pandemic, and there were several shorts not mentioned in the festival programme, including Portal To Hell, the last film Rowdy Roddy Piper made before his death last year, and one in which he was clearly all out of bubblegum.

Long live the King
Long live the King Photo: Ingrid Mur

The usual friendly Frightfest atmosphere prevailed when fans weren’t busy watching films, and t-shirts were given away to everyone who asked for them. Contrary to many outsider’ expectations, the audience was about 40% female, and every film shown passed the Bechdel test – something other genres could learn from. The most popular film of the night was the last, Patchwork, in which three woman awake after an accident to find themselves ‘Frankensteined’ together and set out to hunt down the crazed scientist responsible. Director Tyler MacIntyre, attending, said he had wanted to get back to the playful gore and glory days of films like Re-Animator, and that certainly seemed to please the crowd.

Also on at the festival that day was Finnish Oscar nominee The Fencer, a peculiar blend of Soviet-era secret police thriller and heartwarming teacher-transforming-children’s-lives tale which left some viewers in tears. Ben Rivers’ surreal adventure story The Sky Trembles And The Earth Is Afraid And The Two Eyes Are Not Brothers was the last film of the festival to be shown on 35mm , something that’s getting increasingly rare these days. Unfortunately it had an old fashioned hiccough and broke halfway through, but some viewers appreciated the unexpected interval and it was soon up and running again. Generally responses were good to what was one of the most challenging films at the festival.

Thanking their Lucky Star
Thanking their Lucky Star Photo: Glasgow Film Festival

Another film set in high mountains, slow-paced docu-fiction epic Paths Of The Soul showed that evening, following a group of Tibetan pilgrims as they walked 1,200 miles, bowing right down to the ground every seven paces. Director Zhang Yang recently talked to us about making it. It contrasted sharply with Danish film The Elite, a tale of ambitious young people overwhelmed by a life of excess, which screened a little later, whilst the most talked-about standard screening of the evening was violent Italian thriller Suburra, which mixes politics, gangsters and a fetid religious climate as only Rome knows how.

The evening concluded with two very different takes on military life. Star-crossed lovers separated by war were the subjects of Lucky Star, a silent classic screening at the Mackintosh Queen’s Cross and accompanied by the music and vocals of Ela Orleans, a real treat for the romantics in the festival crowd. Meanwhile, those who felt the need for speed travelled to the Imax for a giant size screening of Eighties mega-hit Top Gun, which some fans said they enjoyed just as much as the first time they saw it.

Maverick moments
Maverick moments Photo: Stuart Crawford

The atmosphere was electric and, to add to the excitement, there was the chance to get a photo taken sticking your face through a standee in the lobby so you could pretend to be Tom Cruise. One young man was so impressed by this that he asked how much the opportunity cost, and we’re glad to say that the surprised staff refrained from exploiting the situation. We’re not sure if anyone warned him that Chuckles the xenomorph had been caught playing with the standee earlier in the week; we think he’s left the building now, but with HR Giger’s creations you can never be 100% sure, and though there are only two days of the festival left to go, that still leaves time for a last minute twist.

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