Josh Slater-Williams selects his highlights from the annual film festival, from intriguing oddities to movies set for the big screen soon
The 16th Glasgow Film Festival wrapped up this past weekend, and going by the state of arts event cancellations and delays in the wake of the global pandemic of Covid-19 – from SXSW to Coachella – it might be the only big British film festival for a while. Rather than solely offering a sneak peek at hyped titles due in the coming few months (though there were still plenty of those), this year’s programme was heavy on intriguing oddities currently without UK distribution in the pipeline. But going by the general quality, they’re sure to pop up in cinemas or on streaming services by year’s end. In no particular order, here are ten titles from GFF 2020 worth catching when you can.
1. Body of Water
The feature debut of Edinburgh-based writer-director Lucy Brydon, Body of Water is a subtle, compassionate and complex drama concerning a woman’s eating disorder and the cyclical ramifications it has on both her mental health and her increasingly estranged loved ones, including her teenage daughter and mother. It’s a rare on-screen portrait of anorexia in someone closer to middle age, and from a professional background – the protagonist was a war photographer – whereby traumatic experiences may have shaped the harrowing nature of her condition.
2. Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago
Perhaps best known for the Sailor and Lula novels which inspired David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), and for also later co-writing Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), Barry Gifford is one of Chicago’s most celebrated working writers. Rob Christopher’s kaleidoscopic documentary adapts Gifford’s autobiographical collection The Roy Stories, incorporating archive footage of the city, animation and spoken word contributions from actors Willem Dafoe, Lili Taylor and Matt Dillon, alongside Gifford himself.
3. The Twentieth Century
The feature debut of experimental filmmaker Matthew Rankin, The Twentieth Century is a boisterous, gonzo faux-biopic of Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. A simultaneously maximalist and minimalist mash-up of Guy Maddin, modernism, biopic, parody, Monty Python, and silent horror (namely The Cabinet of Dr Caligari), and shot on 16mm against incredible abstract sets, this is one of the most distinctive comedies of recent memory.
4. Days of the Bagnold Summer
The directorial debut of actor Simon Bird (The Inbetweeners), Days of the Bagnold Summer is an adaptation of Joff Winterhart’s lo-fi graphic novel of the same name. Noticeably influenced by the peak work of Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude), and set to a soundtrack by Belle & Sebastian, it’s a sweet comedy about a timid mother and metalhead teenage son bonding when forced to spend a long, boring summer together, with tender performances from Monica Dolan and Earl Cave.
5. Our Ladies
Our Ladies is among the GFF highlights that’s on its way to British viewers, released in September. An adaptation of Alan Warner’s beloved novel The Sopranos (renamed for obvious reasons), it sees a magnetic young cast in a tale of late-teen lasses from the highlands running wild in mid-90s Edinburgh for a day of debauchery and heartbreak, under the pretext of competing in a choir competition. Think American Graffiti (1973) as filtered through the comedic style of The Commitments (1991).
6. Ghost Master
Paul Young’s independent Japanese horror-comedy is an inventive and frequently hilarious riff on both demon tales and films about movie-making. Taking place on the set of a teen romance novel adaptation, it sees the assistant director’s passion-project script transform into an equivalent of The Evil Dead’s ‘book of the dead’, possessing the film’s star and leading to a bloodbath of crazy body horror effects, largely done practically, that would make Sam Raimi proud.
7. Make Up
A horror-tinged journey of self-discovery and psychosexual tension, Claire Oakley’s remarkable feature debut as writer-director is set in the off season at a Cornwall holiday park, as 18-year-old Ruth comes to stay with her older boyfriend who travels to work there for a few months each year. Suspecting infidelity on his part, she’s drawn towards another beguiling park employee, whose affections and reputation help awaken confusing forms of self-actualisation. Look out for this one in the summer.
The eponymous protagonist of Patrick has a tool you definitely don’t want to borrow and then lose if you ever want to hear the end of it. A Flemish dramedy set on a naturist campsite in Belgium, it’s a caper where the site’s 40-ish handyman – who still lives at home with his parents, the site’s owners – is dead set on retrieving his missing prized hammer, discovering a conspiracy among the camp’s residents. And almost everyone in the film just happens to be naked.
9. A White, White Day
Grief and resentment manifest in dangerous and frightening ways in the incredible sophomore feature from Icelandic filmmaker Hlynur Pálmason. Veteran Ingvar Sigurðsson gives a towering performance, that won him an award at last year’s Cannes, as the widowed police officer who begins to suspect his late wife was having an affair. His quest for the truth he believes consumes him and puts the safety of his beloved granddaughter in jeopardy.
10. The Long Walk
A few years back, Laotian American director Mattie Do became both Laos’ first female film director and also its first horror-film director. With the time-hopping The Long Walk, her new tale of spirits with the addition of a lo-fi sci-fi element, she explores mortality as both blessing and burden, with a protagonist pursued by a ghost for much of his life that can also help him revisit the moment of his mother’s death 50 years prior.