Following a challenging period plagued by closures and restricted audiences, the Glasgow Film Theatre hopes its 2022 Film Festival can bring Scottish film fans back to the theatre. We talked to Allison Gardner, Chief Executive of Glasgow Film and Co-Director of the Glasgow Film Theatre, about this year’s event, how the theatre tackled challenging times during the pandemic, and her thoughts on streaming.
As Scotland’s oldest arts cinema, The Glasgow Film Theatre has been a cultural staple within the city since 1939. The GFT has also played host to the annual Glasgow Film Festival from 2005, which has become one of the UK’s leading film showcases. The festival traditionally showcases the best in Scottish film, gives a platform to up and coming filmmakers, pays homage to classic cinema and premieres exciting worldwide releases.
This year, Allison Gardner and her team are gearing up to host the 18th edition of the popular event. The annual exhibition will adopt a hybrid format, with screenings being presented in the Glasgow Film Theatre and online. The festival, one of the first to feature in-person screenings since the pandemic began, will run from the 2nd till the 13th of March.
Recently, the GFF announced its full programme for 2022. This year’s event will play host to 10 World premieres, four European premieres, 65 UK premieres and 13 Scottish premieres. Highlights from the event include the premiere of Angry Young Men, the micro-budget debut feature from Hamilton-born filmmaker, Paul Morris. Other world premieres include the Christina Ricci led horror movie Monstrous, as well as Skint, co-written by Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee. The event will also reveal an exclusive sneak peek at the 6th series of Outlander.
The GFF has also announced the return of some of its most popular strands which includes the ‘Retrospective’; free morning screenings of classic films, modern masterpieces, and niche flicks. Also featured is the seventh annual Industry Focus event, which will feature guest speakers, unique networking opportunities and topical panel discussions. Other events include a programme of African Stories, which will highlight a range of contemporary films from the continent, and a tribute to Edith Carlmar, Norway’s first female feature film director.
It follows a challenging two years for the once-bustling theatre, which was plagued with closures and audience limitations in the face of COVID-19. Gardner notes that ‘numbers drastically reduced, and GFT was only open for nine weeks during the 2020-21 financial year, which was a real challenge for us financially.’ Although Gardner is adamant that streaming cannot be seen as an alternative to ‘the cinematic experience’ she does credit it for being ‘great during lockdown.’
Pre-pandemic, the GFT had invested in ‘Glasgow Film at Home’, an immersive at-home experience where audiences could watch monthly screenings online for free. The investment proved to be a saving grace for the theatre. Gardner says it kept the cinema from having ‘substantial product supply issues which multiplex theatres, who invested a lot of money into blockbusters which were postponed, faced.’
In anticipation of the GFF’s big comeback, Gardner believes ‘there is a hunger to return to screens.’ With COVID-19 posing less of a risk now, the director believes the theatre is in a great position to ‘bounce back’, she adds that the theatre doesn’t rely on large audiences and therefore ‘are not dependent on big blockbusters like James Bond’ to stay afloat. Instead, the theatre, which has a capacity of just 589, has built a niche yet dedicated audience of film lovers thanks to the showcase of smaller independent films and documentaries.
Last year, the Glasgow Film festival was a virtual affair, hosted on the Glasgow Film at Home platform. It’s programme boasted eight World premieres, three European premieres and 48 UK premieres, including an exclusive showcase of the Oscar-Winning Minari. Despite the success of 2021’s exhibit, Gardner admits that theatre staff are ‘excited for the festival to return to its traditional in-person format this year’. The Glasgow Film at Home platform will also be utilised to ensure ‘accessibility for those who cannot attend the festival in person.’
Most importantly, Gardner hopes the festival attracts young film lovers who have missed out on the cinema experience due to the pandemic. ‘It is essential for us that young people attend the festival. Some films are free to everybody, which is a great incentive for young people who love film but can’t afford to attend the cinema’.
Alongside the GFF’s digital platform, gala premieres will screen simultaneously at both the festival’s home venue, and at cinemas across the UK, including London, Manchester, Sheffield, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Stornoway. Gardner hopes the relaunch of in-person film festivals can inspire and ‘beautifully immerse audiences through film’, something she says, ‘streaming could never replicate.’
Tickets for Glasgow Film festival screenings are on sale now from the GFT Box Office and glasgowfilm.org/festival.