Festivals in Scotland are not just confined to a couple of months of unpredictable weather and fairly predictable offerings in Edinburgh, Scotland’s version of the Athens of the North. 50 miles to the west, Glasgow – home to Scotland’s Venice of the North – is arguably the real cultural capital north of the border. For years its music scene has produced acts which capture a feeling of relevance to an existence within the UK outside of London that Liverpool and Manchester can still only retrospectively boast about. It possesses an art scene and an art school to rival any outside the UK’s capital. Glasgow School of Art has produced 3 Turner Prize winners in the last 6 years. The city seems to have its finger on the pulse of the United Kingdom in the 21st Century.
And so it is with the Glasgow Film Festival. With its main base in the art deco Glasgow Film Theatre, the programme has been consistently interesting and challenging for many years. 2012 sees the festival’s programme embrace cinema and moving arts, independent cinema and a focus on new German cinema, as well as a homecoming for an independent film slowly causing a stir on the festival circuit – Scottish born Simon Arthur’s Silver Tongues.
Forming GFF’s international focus the Welcome to Germany strand presents a series of films that have been attracting attention on the festival circuit. Stopped on Track (Halt auf Frier Strecke) from Andreas Dresen was joint prize winner of the Un Certain Regard category at last year’s Cannes festival, and Sleeping Sickness won Ulrich Koehler the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlinale in 2011. Of particular interest amongst the other films is Dreileben (Three Lives), which interweaves three tales around a single plot event from three of Deutschland’s most prominent contemporary filmmakers – Christian Petzold, Christph Hochhauesler and Dominik Graf. Born a period of twenty years apart, but driven together to shoot the project through disagreements about and a passionate concern for the current condition of German cinema, this project was initiated from an email exchange published in the magazine Revolver.
The Weimarvellous strand notionally contrasts the present with the Goldene Zeit of Germany’s 1920-30’s Weimar culture and its pioneering film industry. Many of that era’s heavyweights – Emil Jannings, Carl von Zuckmayer, Heinrich Mann and Josef von Sternberg collaborated on the film that made Marlene Dietrich famous, the 1930 shadowy cabaret classic, Blue Angel. Ten years before Disney produced Snow White, often cited as the first animated feature, Lotte Reiniger had created something quite different. The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a beautiful, delicate silhouette animation, copied in cinema many times since, which indirectly captures something of those times. To my shameless delight, Walter Ruttman’s fantastic, formally beautiful and historically poignant Berlin:Symphony of a Great City completes this trio of films from a scintillating, creative and tragic age.
For the first time, the Festival includes the exciting new strand Crossing the Line, which explores the relationship between visual art and film. Former architect and cinematic psychogeographer Patrick Keiller will have his Tilda Swinton narrated documentary on the state of British housing, Dilapidated Dwelling screened. The festival will also be showing the promising looking surrealist, high art/low comedy ghost-road movie Finnisterae, the debut film of Sergio Caballero, co-director of Barcelona’s Sonar Festival. The Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing came to prominence when psychiatry was that laziest of journalistic epithets, the new rock n roll – but is nevertheless a fascinating and divisive figure. Glasgow-based filmmaker Luke Fowler returns to use Laing as the subject of a second of his films, All Divided Selves, using archive footage to create a collage-documentary portrait of the man. Grant Gee, the director of Radiohead’s Meeting People is Easy and Joy Division, turns to a very different subject in the highly significant and influential German-born writer WG Sebald. Sebald’s work attempted to reconcile both his personal memories and the collective histories of the German people post World War II. His use of images in his writing and outmoded and lengthy German sentence constructions were innovative and inspired many visual artists, including Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar. Gee’s film follows partly in the wake of Sebald’s bleak tour of the Suffolk landscape that led to his book Rings of Saturn, visiting literary graveyards and themes of decay, death, memory and the loss of memory.
Finally, Glasgow’s sound/art/performance collective 85a will be presenting the work of Czech surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer at the Glue Factory, the ever-inventive venue in the north of the city. Svankmajer’s work will be screened in specially constructed theatres, with tailor-made installations and costumed performers.
Glasgow Film Festival takes place at venues across the city from 16th to the 26th February. Details at the festival website.