Last year the GFF was lucky enough to sneak in just before the March lockdown, and the line-up was as strong as ever. As with every other festival around, it’s inevitable that they’ve moved to digital-only for their 2021 instalment. Fortunately, despite being cut back a little in terms of number of films, this year’s roster has me salivating. From the best of Scottish cinema to country-in-focus South Korea, the GFF is again at the cutting edge of modern film.
Opening film Minari comes on the tail of Grand Jury and Audience Awards at the Sundance Film Festival, and is being touted as the type of movie we all need right now. It follows the story of a Korean family who uproot to the US in search of the American dream. The trailer had me feeling the feels – it looks like it will be something special. Closing film Spring Blossom seeks to envelop the viewer in the feeling of Parisian chic; a coming-of-age story deeply rooted in French cinema tradition.
The GFF has always been fantastic at championing new Scottish film-making voices, and this year all the stops have been pulled out to give us reasons to be optimistic about the future of Scottish cinema. Anthony Baxter’s Eye of the Storm follows the late, great Scottish painter James Morrison’s last two years, up to his final exhibition in January 2020. It’s sure to move you.
Another that many have been looking forward to is Creation Stories, the story of Creation records founder Alan McGee. Starring Ewen Bremner and featuring Jason Isaacs and Suki Waterhouse, the film, co-written by Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh, will tell a raucous, amusing, and enlightening tale.
LIMBO is the first feature film to be shot on Uist, a cross-cultural satire wryly telling the story of a Syrian refugee who finds himself relocated to the islands awaiting the result of his asylum request. Iorram (Boat Song) is the first documentary feature to be entirely shot in Scottish Gaelic, a reason to see the film in itself. It looks beautiful, and the marriage of this and the stories of fishing communities in the Outer Hebrides will be ravishing.
In the UK premieres bracket, one that catches my eye is Undergods, featuring Scotland’s own Kate Dickie. It’s a dystopian science fiction title that looks equal parts High Rise and Ex Machina. Riders of Justice is a Danish feature starring the phenomenal Mads Mikkelsen, and is a guaranteed thrill-a-minute actioner with a healthy dose of humour. The fact that Mikkelsen has turned to the action thriller genre fills me with glee.
The GFF has always been known for its music documentaries, as you’d expect considering Glasgow’s great music heritage. The one that stands out for me is Polystyrene: I Am A Cliche, the story of Miss Poly Styrene, the frontwoman of the wonderful punk band X-Ray Spex. Co-directed by her daughter Celeste Bell, the portrait of this cult figure is sure to be colourful and interesting.
What makes my jaw hit the floor is the festival’s East Asian emphasis. South Korean cinema has been thrust into the spotlight due to Parasite’s Oscar triumph last year, and the GFF has wisely chosen to spotlight the country that for me has been making the best cinema internationally for a long time now. Swordsman is a return to the period swordplay genre popular in the Noughties, and will be sure to deliver style, atmosphere, and fantastical combat.
Actor Lee Byun-Hun is one of the most recognisable faces in Korean cinema, having starred in the masterpiece I Saw the Devil and the influential A Bittersweet Life. His new film The Man Standing Next sees him take on a multi-layered role as Korean intelligence chief during the final days of President Park Chung-hee’s presidency in the late 70s. It’s a conspiracy thriller, the likes of which the Koreans have become good at in recent years, and with Lee on board we’re guaranteed thrills and spills.
There are also a couple of Chinese mainland films, from a collaboration with Shanghai Film Festival. Spring Tide sounds like a drama in the style that the nation does so well, telling the story of three generations of women living in the same house.
The GFF is taking the baton from many other festivals by going purely digital. While the feeling of seeing a film in a festival with a sold-out crowd is hard to replace, the idea that many of us will be logging on to see great films at the same time under the banner of the GFF is something to look forward to.