A Rundown of the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival 

This March, I had the pleasure of attending the Glasgow Film Festival, my first but certainly not my last excursion of this kind, where I experienced some excellent examples of cinema from across the globe. Upon learning of the festival, I carefully curated an itinerary that allowed me to fit my trips over from Edinburgh to Glasgow around my university and work schedule to maximise my film watching. I managed to see seven films across the twelve days, though wish I could have seen more. 

When I first arrived at the Glasgow Film Theatre for the Opening Gala, in which Adura Onashile’s Girl had the spotlight, I was overwhelmed by the apprehensive atmosphere that something truly exciting was about to begin. Greeted with the choice of orange juice or prosecco upon arrival, and a vibrant pink tote bag sporting the GFF logo – which I will definitely be using to subtly brag about my cinematic adventure – I settled in for what I was sure would be a night I wouldn’t soon forget. 

A bright pink tote bag from the festival, looks like the light from a cinema projector is flooding through to create a triangle, with some moon and star shapes dotted around
Image Courtesy of Natalie Quinn

Attending by myself and not as a Glasgow local, I did initially get the sensation that I had stumbled into a family reunion or was somehow gate crashing a party where everyone knew each other except me. Surrounded by people greeting each other and exclaiming ‘I haven’t seen you in ages, how have you been?’, I got a real sense of how events like this can bring people together. The feeling of stepping into a community that shared a love of film, and with a willingness to embrace different stories from up-and-coming filmmakers, was overpowering. There was an undeniable difference between this and a regular day at my job at a chain cinema, with moviegoers cradling buckets of popcorn and queueing to see the latest Marvel film. This was not the cinema, this was cinema. 

The opening film, Girl (the story of a mother-daughter relationship, set in the home city of the festival), was the perfect introduction. Propelled by feeling, beautiful cinematography, and an incredible soundtrack I need available on Spotify this instant, this film was a poignant yet funny start to the festival. 

The cinema screen shows the 'opening gala' and chairs for a Q+A, with audience seats all covered in the pink bags
Image Courtesy of Natalie Quinn

Perhaps my favourite film of the festival was The Ordinaries, directed by Sophie Linnenbaum. Set in a society where the class structure is divided into main characters, supporting characters, and outtakes. It follows the story of Paula – a supporting character hoping to rise to main character status, who begins a journey of investigation into her true identity and the world in which she lives. Despite its absurd and humorous approach, rife with metafictional movie references, it is, to quote Linnenbaum, ‘about us’. It is an allegory for every version of society throughout history and across the world in which our differences are used against us, and unnecessary hierarchies of power are enforced. 

In keeping with this theme of power, the festival saw the UK premiere of God’s Creatures, starring Paul Mescal and Emily Watson. The film is set in a rural Irish community, in which Aileen (Watson) is greeted by the return of her estranged son Brian (Mescal), only for him to be accused of sexual assault for which she blindly defends him. God’s Creatures opens up conversations about morality, male violence, and how far you would go to protect the ones you love – even when you know they have done wrong. Certainly a pertinent film, but one that ultimately does not fully engage with its subject matter and fails to achieve the desired catharsis of such a story.

Margaret Qualley with a mischievious look in her eye and blonde hair, biting the tip of a pen
Sanctuary, Image Courtesy of Rumble Films

My second double bill day had me attending the tallest cinema in the world, aka the Cineworld on Renfrew Street, with screenings of Alex Schaad’s Skin Deep and Zachary Wigon’s Sanctuary. With the thought-provoking premise of an island in which inhabitants can swap bodies with others, Skin Deep explores the topics of self, mental health and sexuality. How much of our concept of who we are is tied to our physical body? How different would our experience of life be through another’s form? Though it may not engage with and delve into these topics as much as it could have, the film poses these interesting questions and leads the viewer through a journey of introspection. 

Wigon’s Sanctuary was another surprising gem of the festival. Not only was the film hilarious, but the response from the audience amplified the experience and made it all the more enjoyable to watch. One audience member in particular had the most entertaining laugh that set off a chain reaction in the crowd, creating a mexican wave-like ripple akin to the contagious nature of a yawn. I went into each of these films knowing only a very basic description of the plot, which were often bizarre and difficult to explain – not making it easy when trying to describe the synopses to people after I told them about my attendance at the festival. My statement for this one was ‘Margaret Qualley plays a Dominatrix’, which is really all you need to know before entering this wild ride of a film. Was it a thriller, was it a romcom? I think that’s the beauty of this film, in that it is somehow both and is great as either genre. 

Central characters of Rye Lane at the corner of London Market, pointing in which direction they are going, wearing bright coats in front of a fruit stall
Rye Lane, Image Courtesy of the Searchlight Pictures

My penultimate film, Rye Lane, was a spur of the moment decision that I had not initially intended on seeing at the festival, but boy I’m glad I did. Experiencing its Scottish premiere with a Q&A with the director, Raine Allen-Miller, and star of the film, Vivian Oparah, made this last minute decision not to wait for its mainstream release so worthwhile. The stylish and modern aesthetic of the film felt refreshing yet comforting, and the pure joy on my face with the cameo to end all cameos was unmatched. A modern classic I can’t wait to revisit in the near future. 

Finally, the Closing Gala saw Nida Manzoor’s Polite Society take centre stage. A rambunctious film about a wannabe stunt woman on a mission to save her sister from what she believes is an unhealthy marriage, this film was full of humour, and was a joyous close to the festival. Though perhaps slightly juvenile and over the top, this was still a fun and entertaining film about sisterhood and fighting for what you believe in. 

An Indian woman from Polite Society in traditional dress, green, with a jewelled headdress, arms raised in a fighting pose and a serious expression on her face
Polite Society, Image Courtesy of Working Title Films

From witnessing interviews and Q&As with directors, writers, and actors, to casting my vote for the audience award, my time at the GFF was a truly unforgettable experience. I hope to return to the festival one day and can’t wait to experience more events like this in the future.