What to see at the virtual Glasgow Film Festival 2021

The 2020 Glasgow Film Festival seems as if it occurred a lifetime ago. It must have been one of the last live, in-person festivals where people could actually utter the words “Is this seat taken?” prior to the world being nudged off a cliff and its populous subsequently locked behind a laptop screen for almost a year. Heeding government guidance, Glasgow is back this year as a digital-only festival, offering up its usual bounty of world and local cinema, but asking you to provide your own snacks.

The festival itself works so well because it trades on that live aspect and uses cinema to both serve and enthral the public. Alongside their screenings at the Glasgow Film Theatre, the CCA and other venues, the programming is geared towards bringing people together to experience films in unique ways, whether that’s in the company of directing or acting talent, or in a unique spot that isn’t usually known for screening films (I once saw Dawn of the Dead screened in a shopping centre, for example).

It sounds like I’m rubbing salt in the wound a bit, and I won’t lie: it’s sad not to be able to hop up to the festival as it is, without doubt, one of the most fun and community-minded festivals on the calendar. But it’s also great that they are marching on and, like all arts organisations worth their salt, allowing necessity to be the mother of invention. So it’s a digital festival this year, boasting eight world premieres, three European premieres, and a whopping 48 UK premieres.

Things are kicking off in the best way imaginable, with the first UK screening of Lee Isaac Chung’s delightful Oscar-hopeful, Minari, about a South Korean family who, during the 1980s, have decamped to Arkansas (via California) in search of their fortune, but also some profound connection to the local landscape. Closing things out is Spring Blossom, the debut feature by 21-year-old Suzanne (daughter of Vincent) Lindon.

This isn’t really the place to namecheck everything playing in the festival, but we’ll try our best to pick out some of the things that tickle our own fancy. You’re not going to want to miss Ben Sharrock’s Limbo, which examines the grim process of acquiring refugee status in the UK with a levity and sense of humour that lifts it above more dour works on the subject.

We’re also intrigued by Creation Stories, a chronicle of Scottish impresario Alan McGee and the founding of his iconic label Creation Records, which is penned by Irvine Welsh, directed by Nick Moran and stars Ewen Bremner. Remaining on the music tip there’s Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché, a new film about the charismatic frontwoman of zany punk stalwarts X-Ray Spex.

Elsewhere there’s the French kitchen sink fantasy Gagarine, about a derelict Parisian housing estate that one man decides to transform into a space station, Black Bear, which is billed as a psychosexual drama starring the always-reliable Aubrey Plaza. There’s also a chance to catch up with the new film by the grandfather of militantly objective observational documentary, as Frederick Wiseman’s widely-lauded City Hall will receive a screening.

As well, there’s a sidebar in which GFF partners up with the Shanghai Film Festival to trade some of its top titles, and there’s also a country focus on South Korea, offering audiences a chance to survey the cinematic fruits from a country in the midst of a major creative boom. There is also Arrow Video’s FrightFest weekender which offers up the gorehounds among us a mini selection of current horror film treats.

The Glasgow Film Festival runs from 24 February to 7 March. Tickets go on sale from 12 noon on 18 January and can be purchased from glasgowfilm.org

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