It seems there hasn’t been much to cheer about for Scottish movie lovers recently. Short of a miracle, the demise of the Edinburgh International Film Festival seems certain with the collapse  of CMI. Fortunately, Glasgow Film Festival is in rude health and is perfectly placed to carry the torch for Scottish festivals. Arriving as it does early in the year, it’s a welcome spoonful of sugar to sweeten the bitter pill film lovers had to swallow at the end of 2022. Film editor Kevin Ibbotson-Wight has a look at some potential (and a few guaranteed highlights) from a tantalising selection.

It’s unusual that we approach a festival with prior knowledge of a gala screening. However, I’ve been fortunate enough to see both the opening and closing gala films thanks to their screenings at Sundance, and both are wonderful. GFF opens with Adura Onashile‘s debut Glasgow-shot debut Girl. This sensitive, almost dreamy tale of a young African woman and her daughter adapting to a new life in a strange country is something special. Made with impressionistic verve and boundless empathy, it’s a cinematic confirmation of the adage that People Make Glasgow. I was lucky enough to speak to Onashile just after Girl was announced as the opening gala film and just before its almost uniformly positive reception at Sundance.

Much more frenetic, but no less impressive is Polite Society, which closes the festival. It’s another tremendous debut, in this case from Nida Manzoor of We Are Lady Parts renown. It’s a culturally specific comedy that sees a British-Pakistani teenager attempt to thwart her sister’s arranged marriage. Borrowing from sci-fi, kung-fu films, Bollywood musicals, Edgar Wright-style editing, and all other manner of pop-culture goodies, it’s a riot of colour and imaginations, even if it does threaten to hurtle off the rails in the third act. It’s certain to leave the gala crowd with the widest of grins.

Elsewhere in the programme, there are a few home-grown features that stand out. The programmers have cheekily differentiated Scottish films from the rest of the UK entries – I suppose if you’re representing Scotland, you may as well go the full McGlashan – and demonstrate that there are an increasingly diverse range of movies being made here. ‘Springburn Scorsese’ James Price‘s Dog Days is a redemptive tale of a busker living rough on the streets of Dundee, and Andrew Cumming‘s ambitious survival horror The Origin sees a gang of Stone Age settlers stalked by a mysterious entity while looking for a new home.

The rest of the UK is well represented too. Carol Morley returns to GFF with Typist Artist Pirate King, about the life of artist Audrey Amiss, whose work has been rediscovered since her death in 2013. Morley has done hugely interesting work based on a real story before, in Dreams of a Life, so a middle-of-the-road biopic is unlikely. For documentary fans, the prolific Mark Cousins investigates the life and work of the Master of Suspense in My Name is Alfred Hitchcock. Impressionist Alistair McGowan steps into the director’s jowls to offer fresh insights into his career. And debut  Raine Allen Miller‘s Rye Lane is a rom-com detailing the mayhem caused by two 20-something Londoners over the course of a day. It’s difficult not too root for a London-set spin on Before Sunrise.

Rye Lane is also one of the ten films nominated for GFF’s only prize, the Audience Award which champions debut or sophomore directors. The other nine are: I Love Movies, Chandler Levak‘s story of a budding Tarantino landing a job in a Canadian video store in the early 2000’s; Alauda Ruiz de Azúa‘s Lullaby, championed by no less a voice then Pedro Almodóvar as, ‘Undoubtedly the best debut in Spanish cinema for years’; Marianne Blicher’s Danish odd-couple drama Miss Viborg; soulful Kiwi coming-of-age drama Punch by Welby Ings, featuring perennial festival favourite Tim Roth; Andrea Bagney‘s ode to Madrid Ramona, which weaves the French New Wave and the films of Greta Gerwig (I assume Lady Bird and Frances Ha rather than Barbie) through its DNA, immigrant tale Riceboy Sleeps by Anthony Shim, which charts a young Korean mother’s relocation to Canada to build new life in the the ’90s; the body-swap sci-fi romance Skin Deep by Kazakh-born director Alex Schaad; respected actors Mathieu Kassovitz and Jérémie Renier lending their names to Nicolas Giraud‘s little-guy-dreams-big tale The Astronaut; and last, but by-no-means least, Sophie Linnenbaum‘s absurdist debut The Ordinaries, in which all of life is a movie production and humanity is divided into Main Characters, Extras, and Outtakes.

Outside of competition, Filipino slow-cinema master Lav Diaz returns with When the Waves Are Gone, clocking in at a brisk – for him – 187 mins; GFF (and Wee Review) favourite Jonas Chernick (James Vs. His Future Self, Ashgrove) writes and stars in rom-com The End of Sex, along with Schitt’s Creek‘s Emily Hampshire, directed by Sean Garrity; writer/director Alice Winocour (Proxima) returns with Paris Memories, starring the brilliant Virginie Efira (Benedetta, An Impossible Love) as the survivor of a terrorist attack; Only the AnimalsDominik Moll turns to a true-crime tale in Night of the 12th; and Mia Hansen-Løve follows up the irresistible Bergman Island with a personal tale inspired by the death of her father, One Fine Morning.

GFF also features a large programme of classic films. In the Driving Street is a strand revolving around women taking control of their own paths – the results may vary but the films are iconic: Bonnie and Clyde, It Happened One Night, Julia, Pierrot Le Fou, Roman Holiday, The Piano, The Sugarland Express, Thelma & Louise, Vagabond, and Widows are all screening for free. There is also a Gloria Grahame retrospective to celebrate the actresses’ centenary. The five films are Human Desire, In A Lonely Place, Odds Against Tomorrow, The Bad and the Beautiful, and The Big Heat. Again, all screenings are free.

And as always, there is the latest installment of FrightFest. Matthew Keeley has an in-depth preview for the ‘Woodstock of Gore’ here.

Glasgow Film Festival runs from Wed 1 Mar – Sun 12 Mar 2023