Heroes and villains

GFF Diary Days 6 and 7: Mark Millar, Ken Loach, Harun Farocki and a second chance to kneel before Zod.

by Jennie Kermode

Packing in busy days full of films and associated action would be fine if it weren't for the several hours of writing that I have to fit in too, with a misbehaving computer; that's the real killer. Although my fever had gone by Tuesday I was still suffering from having too little sleep, with the result that I stumbled into Cineworld only just before my screening was due to start. "Don't worry, I'm here," said Allison Gardner, only just arrived herself - without her introductions there was no danger of the films starting. She had three to introduce; on the way up in the lift we chatted to a member of the public who was looking forward to watching The Four Times. "It sounds really unusual," she said. Allison pointed out that this is part of the beauty of film festivals, though you may wish to note that that particular film, which sees a man briefly reincarnated as a goat, a tree and a lump of coal, will be on general release later this year.

Before running off to introduce post-Apocalyptic vampire-infested road movie Stakeland, Allison greeted the audience in my film, variously known as How I Ended The Summer or How I Ended This Summer - a small change, perhaps, but it was enough to confuse our database, which was how come I had a ticket for a film Anton Bitel had already reviewed. The second title is actually closer to the original Russian. As with many foreign films, a number of people from that country had come along to enjoy watching a film in their own language, but the language in this case (aside from technical stuff which would baffle anyone who hasn't worked in a weather station) was easy to follow and would be great for a beginner. This seems appropriate since it's a film about a beginner - a young man who is staying at said weather station, in the remote Arctic, in order to learn and to write an essay. He doesn't really seem inclined to learn, though - not about his job, not about the Arctic, and not about how to interact with other people. This makes him one of the most annoying characters I've seen in a film for some time, though the film remains completely believable and often gripping. I'd love to say I enjoyed it; I admired it, but it would have helped if I could care more about his (largely self-induced) plight.

How I Ended The Summer
How I Ended The Summer

In the evening, after doing some more writing and trying to set up an interview for Friday, I discovered in my inbox an invitation to the première of Sue Glover's new play Marilyn, about the famous film star's friendship with Simone Signoret. Sadly it was too late for me to fit it into my schedule but I've heard great things about it so want to let fans know that it'll be running at the Citizens' Theatre here in Glasgow for the next two weeks.

I briefly got the chance to eat some dinner with Stuart before he started his evening shift at nine, covering Upside Down: The Creation Records Story. It was a popular event, with members of Teenage Fanclub, the Trashcan Sinatras, BMX Bandits, The Vaselines, Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura in attendance and the subsequent party going on late into the night. Meanwhile, Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut sold out, with so many hopefuls arriving at the last minute hoping for tickets that special follow-up screenings were arranged for later in the week. The film is cut in a way that gives it a slightly different story from the original version and there are more scenes with Marlon Brando.

Since I've got out of the habit of finishing work as early as half past midnight I took opiates to get myself to sleep, which paid off at least in the short term as I woke at eight feeling reasonably refreshed and with just time to eat and check my mail before rushing to an early screening of Oranges And Sunshine. Directed by Jim Loach, son of the more famous Ken, it tells the story of a social worker who uncovered the scandal of thousands of children who were deported from the UK to Britain between 1900 and 1970. Many of them were not orphans but the children of parents who were socially stigmatised - especially single mothers - some of whom returned to collect them only to be told they'd been adopted. In fact, a lot of them grew up in children's homes, sometimes suffering brutal treatment as well as being told that their parents were dead. It made for a grim start to the day (though getting to rest one's eyes on Emily Watson for two hours first thing in the morning can't be all bad) but I felt it was mostly very well handled and was an impressive début, importantly managing to steer clear of excess sentimentality.

After the screening ended I ran some errands and then popped into the CCA to see the Harun Farocki exhibition Comparison Via A Third. Harocki is an artist who uses the medium of video installation, in this case to explore the relationship between war, culture, technology, and the visual media themselves. Particularly interesting was a segment on the use of immersive virtual reality in treating soldiers who return from Iraq and Afghanistan with post traumatic stress disorder. There was also a surprisingly affecting look at CCTV as used in prisons, which brought back the impact that seeing a real person dying on screen ought to have.

Picking up some food on the way, I went to see Stuart and eat lunch with him as he polished up the previous day's festival photos. We slipped so quickly back toward normal life that he innocently asked me, when he'd finished, "Should we watch a thing?" only to apologise when he saw me recoil (whilst Drew has discovered that he feeds on short films, I am in danger of getting film poisoning). We compromised on the two minute long excellent (albeit fake) YouTube hit Werner Herzog Reads Where's Waldo, which he hadn't seen before and was suitably delighted. It's a fine tribute to the master, and more amusing for me so soon after watching Cave Of Forgotten Dreams.

My next film, that afternoon, was Beyond, the directorial début of Ingmar Bergman protegé Pernilla August, which stars Noomi Rapace, the woman made famous as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I had hoped to see what she could do as an actress in a different context and she still really impressed me but a number of similarities between the two characters - troubled childhoods, a tendency to shut away pain and refuse to discuss it - made it difficult to get a proper impression of her range on this basis. Still, it was a powerful film and, surprisingly, perhaps the most harrowing I have seen this festival.

Surprise Film 13 Assassins
Surprise Film 13 Assassins

I needed a little time to myself afterwards so went down to the bar to get some food. Most of what they make there is edible. As it turns out, the pizza is not. It was really, really bad - so much so that I had to get outside and start walking to stop myself wanting to be sick. You have been warned. I went up to the GFT where I met Stuart, who happened to have just finished a shoot, so we walked together to the Blythswood Hotel where a comics event was due to take place. There we met Mark Millar (the man behind movies like Wanted and curator of this year's Superheroes strand). He was in a very cheerful mood and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the festival, though he also had some X-men news that put him in a good mood. Illustrator Frank Quitely turned up shortly afterwards and the party began to get into full swing. I'm told they drank the free bar dry by the end of the night.

At the party I met a woman called Sue whose Glasgow-born cousin, Malcolm Rennie, was one of the journalists killed in East Timor in 1975. A social worker by trade and not used to parties with free bars and delicious canapés, she told me about the campaign she has waged ever since that day - back when I was only two - to bring those responsible for Malcolm's death to justice. She was at the festival to help present documentary Balibo which explores the incident and its aftermath. There is hope that this will revive interest in the case and perhaps prompt further action in the stalled police investigation. I promised to help her find a politician willing to assist.

Shortly afterwards I had to leave the party so that I could run some final errands before the start of the List Surprise Movie. Stuart went off to photograph Ken Loach during a post Route-Irish Q&A at which a dedicated fan presented the director with a poem several pages long. Another audience member praised the film for its balanced depiction of soldiers in Iraq, neither condemning nor lionising. "Some of them are cunts, though," yet another helpfully put in. Unsurprisingly, the event did not finish on time.

Feeling somewhat vulnerable in the swarming crowd in the lobby, where people seemed to see my walking stick as the ideal weak point at which to push through the line, I managed to find a helpful staff member who took me up in the lift to the GFT's Cinema One. Ken Loach was still up there, signing last-minute autographs as the ushers tried to persuade people to leave. He was clearly enjoying being in Glasgow and praised the Free Hetherington, the former mature students' union at the University of Glasgow which is currently under occupation as an act of resistance against cuts and is, temporarily at least, acting as an arts venue. It's a shame that a badly handled recent dispute looks like it may lead to the squatters being turfed out. I had hoped to go and film them when not so overwhelmed with work.

Anyway, when the cinema was finally full of the people who were meant to be there, Paul from The List introduced the film. He had some new little sound-effects gadget to play with so went for the comedy presentation angle, saying the film had a bit of one sound effect and a bit of another. Unfortunately he chose chirping and bouncing, and I was almost reduced to tears by the fear that Universal might somehow have been persuaded to part with an early cut of Hop - I simply couldn't cope, at that time of night, with an hour and a half of Russell Brand, the world's most boring would-be actor. My relief was palpable when Japanese characters appeared on the screen. Other audience members laughed; a couple sighed; over the course of the next two hours, five would leave. In the circumstances, I would happily have sat through almost anything (also, it had to be better than last year's Greenberg), but to discover it was a Takashi Miike film was a real delight.

With lines like "We will turn this quiet little town into a town of death," 13 Assassins was a thrill from start to finish. Yes, it's flawed, with some dodgy bits of CGI, and it's often formulaic, but in the manner of all fond genre tributes. Sustaining the action the way Miike does without compromising storytelling or losing audience interest is a lot tougher than it appears and I was really impressed. It's bloody, it's vicious, it's over the top, and it was exactly what I needed. I practically bounced home afterwards, hoping nobody would be foolish enough to step into my path, but for all the best reasons.

And so we are past the halfway point with only four more days to go, but a lot can happen in four days. Watch this space.

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