Darkness falls

GFF Diary days 9 & 10: documentaries, nocturnal wanderings, and the return of Frightfest.

by Jennie Kermode

Rab Florence takes on the IMAX
Rab Florence takes on the IMAX Photo: Eoin Carey

Things have been going so smoothly for this year’s Glasgow Film Festival that many behind the scenes were starting to get nervous, believing it couldn’t last forever, and on Thursday the moment came. A sudden, unexpected power cut across several city blocks meant the projectors had to be turned off and three screenings were cancelled. Although the GFT has back-up power, safety was the prime concern. People with tickets for Warsaw Uprising, Jauja and Red Amnesia received refunds and one, at least, was very happy after choosing on impulse to go and see Italian drug dealing comedy I Can Quit Whenever I want instead. Fortunately those who had already sat through more than five hours of Lav Diaz’s historic Filipino epic From What Is Before were not forced to miss the end.

Overall, this year’s festival has been thin on documentaries compared to previous ones, but Thursday made up for that with screenings of the odyssey through time and snows that is On The Trail Of The Far Fur Country, alternative lifestyle portrait Life’s A Beach and punk celebration Revenge Of The Mekons. There was also a chance to enjoy the musical musings of Memphis, which isn’t a documentary but which viewers could be forgiven for mistaking for one, as it consciously blurs boundaries in building its story around a real life musician.

AlgoRhythm is a dancer
AlgoRhythm is a dancer Photo: Ingrid Mur

Just after dusk, a Cinema City Walking Tour set out to explore some of Glasgow’s many hidden former cinemas, which can be found in all corners of the city, many still bearing the grand architectural embellishments that once announced their importance as gateways to a magical world. Every place in the group was full, and over at the Mitchell Library, the Jeely Jars exhibition was still packing people in so tightly that there was hardly any room to move, showing how much excitement there still is about this subject. Also keeping people busy in the evening were AlgoRhythm, a collaborative art and music event based at the Art School and focused, this year, on audience participation; and Rab’s Video Game Empty, which this year went completely over the top by using the IMAX to display the games being played by Rab Florence and audience members. We’re not quite sure how they’ll top that one next time around.

There was a second, successful screening of Warsaw Uprising on Friday morning, though it was so busy that it seems unlikely that many of the people who missed it the previous day were able to get in. Using real footage shot by propaganda filmmakers in the Warsaw Ghetto, it features the latest in colourisation technology along with dialogue that has been retrieved by lip readers and dubbed by actors, thereby turning the old material into something that looks like a modern documentary. The team behind it discussed their work with a visibly emotional audience afterwards and talked about how this approach can help us to connect with the past in a different way.

Friday was also a day of documentaries, including some of the best in the festival. Limited Partnership tells the story of the first gay couple to get married in America – in 1975! There was a second chance to see the thoughtful, witty and surprisingly emotional Burroughs: The Movie, and, in the evening, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films took viewers on a thrilling tour of exploitation cinema.

Film fans prepare to Wake In Fright.
Film fans prepare to Wake In Fright. Photo: Eoin Carey

Another victim of Thursday’s blackout, Jauja, screened at lunchtime on Friday, taking visitors on a metaphysical journey across the pampas into unexpected places, and there was also an opportunity to watch South Korean film A Girl At My Door, which is attracting increasing attention internationally after being banned from many cinemas in its homeland because of its controversial subject matter. In its quiet way it serves as a reminder of what LGBT people in many parts of the world are still up against, and it contrasts dramatically with the unabashed queerness of one of the evening’s treats, German underground horror hit The Samurai, though they have some similar points to make.

Other highlights of the day included Next To Her, a thoughtful portrait of the co-dependency between two sisters, one of whom is caring for the other; The Dead Lands, a tale of conflict and youthful ambition in pre-colonial New Zealand; and the extraordinary A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, an Iranian skateboarding vampire western (really) that will break your heart, and that played to a packed audience. There was also a rare screening of Australian horror classic Wake In Fright, the film that famously gives Nick Cave nightmares, in the spectacular surroundings of the Mackintosh Queen's Cross.

Speaking of horror, the other thing that always makes the final Friday of the festival special is, of course, Frightfest, and this year’s was no exception. Passes for the two day event sold out within half an hour of going on sale last month, with phone lines jammed and the GFT’s computer system falling over due to the weight of demand. Best received of the five films screening was Wyrmwood, which took the familiar subject matter of rotting reanimated corpses and managed to put a fresh spin on it, no easy trick these days. It was big on atmosphere and thrilled the crowd, which also enjoyed visits from several directors, a sneak peek at footage from a certain werewolf movie coming later this year, and all the usual themed entertainment. We’ll tell you more about that next time.

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