INTERVIEW WITH.. ALLAN HUNTER OF GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL
The festival has been building in reputation since it began in 2005. At twelve years old, the Glasgow Film Festival is a relatively young major feature film festival. How has the film festival grown over the years and how do you maintain it year by year?
The Festival has recorded a fairly significant increase in attendance during every single year of its existence. A big factor has been word of mouth. In the earlier days you would have people come up to you and tell you-next year I'm taking a week off and coming to see lots of films, next year I'm getting a programme as soon as it is released and booking my tickets so I don't miss anything I want see. You became aware at one point that people had expectations of the Festival and a sense of anticipation as to what it might include. We have always played to our strengths, discovered what worked, tried new things, made use of some great spaces across the city and never forgot that it is a hugely audience-friendly Festival that is programmed without prejudice.
Renowned as one of the friendliest cities in the world, how does the personality of Glasgow reflect in the festival?
It is one of the friendliest Festivals you will ever attend. People do talk to each other in cinemas, in the foyer-asking what you've seen, what you would recommend. Allison is always inviting people to " make a Festival friend" as we squeeze people together for a full house. It's important for audiences to feel the Festival is friendly, accessible and has a warm, welcoming atmosphere. There is nothing elitist about it. The personality of Glasgow is also reflected in the way the Festival spreads across the city using iconic landmarks and unusual spaces for unique special events. We're talking Glasgow Cathedral, Kelvingrove Museum, the Barrowland Ballroom, the Planetarium and many other spaces.
In previous years, the festival has had a strong record for screening films with premiere status. Will that continue this year? And how hard is it to attract films with premiere status when, for example, the festival’s running date coincides with other headline festivals that require premiere status?
Our opening gala for 2017 is the European premiere of Handsome Devil and our closing gala is the world premiere of Mad To Be Normal starring David Tennant which is perfect for us because it captures the charisma and controversy surrounding Glasgow born R.D. Laing. The Festival has 67 UK premieres this year. The philosophy behind the programme has never been to chase UK premieres or become obsessed about the premiere status of a film. If we like something we will show it, if it happens to be a UK premiere that's a lovely bonus. I think audiences just want to see good films and a great diversity of them, it is as simple as that. If there is something you believe in why would you not show it just because it had already screened at the London FilmFestival? Doesn't make much sense to us.
Filmmakers waiting for a decision from the Berlinale can be problematic for us but then being so close to Berlin can work well for a film having its European and then UK premieres close together. Last year, Hail, Caesar opened Berlin and then opened Glasgow. This year, for instance, the new Aki Kaurismaki The Other Side Of Hope and Cate Shortland's Berlin Syndrome come straight from Berlin to Glasgow.
When submissions are open, why should filmmakers submit to the festival and how many film submissions did you receive for 2017?
Submissions are in the low hundreds. They declined slightly this year but the rise in quality was staggering. Filmmakers should know that we take every submission seriously. Every film is watched initially by two people with recommendations as to whether they think it should go forward to the next level of the process. I think some Festivals see admissions as a way to make money but we see them as a way to find some hidden gems. Submissions are chosen for the final programme and have achieved positions of prominence. Rachel Lambert's debut feature In The Radiant City came to us as a submission and is one of the 10 films that will compete for the 2017 Audience Award.
Over an eleven day period, the GFF has, for the last two years, scored over 40,000 audience attendees for the various event programmes. How many of the attendees are in the industry and how do you attract visiting industry from outside of Scotland?
The Festival has always prided itself on being primarily focused on the audience but we've always know that local industry figures attend the Festival and find it useful. In 2016 we launched our first ever industry programme under Festival and industry coordinator Ben Taylor. Industry attendees are still a small percentage of the audience but that is an area that we are very much looking to grow. Ben has put together a terrific industry events programme for 2017 and we have the great Christine Vachon giving a masterclass.
An issue for filmmakers in Scotland and the north of the UK in general is that the industry is still very much entrenched in London and they have to travel down to London every time they want a meeting. We want GFF to be the time when funders, distributors and sales agents come up to us, watch Scottish films, have Scottish projects be presented to them and for them to meet with Scottish filmmakers. We're providing the opportunities and it’s for the Scottish film industry to come out and take them.
How does the festival support and promote local talent?
We do maintain good links with lots of local filmmakers and keep informed of how individual projects are progressing. If there are things we can suggest in terms of potential distributors, offering letters of support to funders etc we are more than happy to do that. Also, you just have a very open mind on Scottish productions and wanting to provide a platform to present their work. This year, for instance, we are screening the world premiere of Benny, a documentary on boxer Benny Lynch, and End Of The Game, a new documentary from David Graham Scott about a clash of values and a relic of Empire.
Do you set any aims or goals for the festival to achieve each year?
I suppose in an ideal world you would like to sell every seat for every performance. The number of sold-out performances and the percentage of seats sold at each performance continues to rise. There are always goals you want to reach in terms of admissions and guests and visiting filmmakers. The Audience Award, supported by Scotrail, is something we want to continue to grow. This year 9 of the 10 films in contention have filmmakers coming with them. There is always more to explore and more to achieve.
A special thanks to Allan Hunter for taking part in this interview. You can find out more about the Glasgow Film Festival on their website.