GFF 2020: Interview with Iain Canning

By Archie Grant

Iain is one of the programmers at the film festival this year, we were given the opportunity to sit down and chat through some of his favourite films at this year’s festival alongside fundamental questions about what the festival is trying to achieve in 2020 and who its audience is.


With a growing sense of isolationism in our politics, window on the world seems like some welcome relief, does the festival always seek to provide a section of the festival devoted to defying the political or cultural norm or has this been included as an attempt to fight back against growing xenophobia?


Film as a medium has always been a force to defy norms and so many films are intrinsically linked to the times that they were made in.  However, the Glasgow Film Festival has always screened international film; the GFT was established in 1939 as a European cinema that showed foreign language film, this core part of the cinema’s character has stayed strong regardless of the changes in the political climate.  We are delighted if the films that we screen at GFF do provide some welcome relief to our audience, but our inclusion of international film is because we have always been devoted to showcasing films from around the world that we want our audiences to experience.


With free events like the retrospective of the future strand and £6.50 tickets are there any other ways in which the festival is being made as accessible as possible?


Accessibility is such an important part of cinema because it ensures that as wide an audience as possible can see films that deserve their attention; so for example all films in the Women Make Film strand this year are priced at £6.50.  We pride ourselves in our accessible bookings at Glasgow Film Festival: we honour holders of CEA cards which grants the holder to a complimentary ticket for their essential companion and we also work with British Sign Language so that BSL users can use their interpreting video relay service.


Iceland has been selected as the country focus for this years festival, what were the reasons behind this decision?


Our Country Focus strand has always allowed us to champion filmmakers that are working in emerging film industries and this year’s strand highlights the huge strides that Icelandic film has made recently with international award winners such as Echo and A White, White Day.  Iceland has garnered a lot of attention in the film world with its stunning landscapes being used as the locations for huge productions like Game of Thrones, but we also want to show that Iceland’s film industry has never needed to rely on foreign production. Icelandic film has produced such cultural classics as the iconic 101 Reykjavik, which we will be screening on the 5th and 6th March, so the pedigree of Icelandic film really does speak for itself.


Iain, you programmed the Future cult section of the festival, was there any overlap with the retrospective of the future section? Do the two sections share any ideas or themes?


Firstly, I should say that the entire programme is a group effort and we all have involvement in each strand – I think the diverse nature of films within each one reflects that. Plus, Chris Kumar (Programme Coordinator) certainly pulled together a large chunk of the Future Cult strand, so he deserves all the credit here!

That being said, I think the themes of dystopia that we are focussing on within the retrospective strand do certainly permeate through Future Cult.  There’s the paranoia of artificial intelligence and where it might take humanity, which is discussed in both ‘Westworld’ & ‘Blood Machines’. This theme also is reflected in other strands (take ‘Machine’, a fantastic documentary on A.I within our ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ strand), which really shows you how cinema is reflecting what the world is thinking and feeling within the current climate.

Elsewhere, ‘Nobadi’, a film about an unlikely bond between an embittered old man and a young immigrant within the ‘Future Cult’ strand, questions our notion of identity & race, which was equally discussed within ‘Planet Of The Apes’ & ‘District 9’, albeit in a much more intimate setting. I don’t need to comment further on how reflective that is on society today!


This year’s festival overlaps with international women’s day, with films The Perfect Candidate, the Ascent and the feature documentary Women make film how is the festival ensuring that there is a wide variety of films made and contributed to by women?


Female filmmakers deserve to be championed as much as their male counterparts, and their legacy as pioneers in the field is undoubtable, yet most have been unfairly treated when discussing film. We didn’t plan to specifically highlight films from female filmmakers (first and foremost, the quality of the film is priority, regardless of gender), yet the quality of those working in film today is so high, with astounding features such as ‘Rocks’, ‘A Perfect Candidate’ and ‘Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars’, we knew we had to give these films a platform. What with having our final night coinciding with International Women’s Day we knew the best way we could champion female filmmakers is by ensuring every film that day is either directed by women or having a female-orientated story.


Also to expand on the previous question, considering GFT promotes cinema for all, are any of the films selected in the Women make film section so everyone can enjoy and appreciate the works of women in cinema as the 14 hours of documentary may not attract a wide audience


The ‘Women Make Film’ documentary series is actually selling really well! Yes, it might sound like a mammoth undertaking, however with it split into 5 parts with each giving a separate perspective on women filmmakers through the years, the rewards from only seeing one or two parts are just a rich as if you viewed all 14 hours.

But yes, we are also screening five films which are featured within the ‘Women Make Film’ documentary series. ‘Crossing Delancey’ is an utterly charming romantic comedy which deserves to be revisited, and ‘Olivia’ is a pioneering example of lesbian representation. My top tip would be the aforementioned ‘The Ascent’, a Tarkovskian depiction of the horrors of war – painful and beautiful, and sadly rarely seen. We’ve set all these films (and each part of the ‘Women Make Film’ documentary) at our reduced ticket price of £6.50, making some of the most important films from female filmmakers as accessible as possible to audiences.


The pioneer section at this years festival is large and it’s great to see such a variety of talent on display, have there been any difficult decisions programming this section? Have there been films you’ve been desperate to show but not been able to get in the festival this year?


Always! There’s a huge amount of talent breaking through right now, so many exciting films and filmmakers whose names will be common knowledge in the next few years. We only have so much space and we just can’t fit everything in! There have been many a long, drawn out (and sometimes rather heated) meetings with the programming team in deciding what makes the cut. Each one of us will have had a fair few films which didn’t make it into the programme, whether it be due to overall consensus, availability or festival strategy from the distributors/filmmakers, and you just need to try and take it on the chin.

It would be unfair of me to highlight those that didn’t quite make the cut. All I’ll say is that my heart was broken on a few occasions, but the quality of this year’s programme is so strong it helps to balance it out.


Finally, at the press event we heard the top 3 picks from Allison and Allan, I was wondering if Iain had a top three favourites list?


Now you’re asking….


Again, with such a variety on offer it’s hard to select three absolute favourites, but if I had to select three which I’m rather excited about (in no particular order), I’d go with:


  • The Changin’ Times Of Ike White – A music documentary which morphs into true crime, following a convicted felon & music prodigy Ike White, who on the verge of breaking the industry vanished from trace. Cue a tale that twists and morphs as the filmmakers try to track him down, following an endless list of fake names and lives. Your jaw will drop.


  • Valley Of Souls – A haunting yet quietly mindblowing Colombian feature which certainly bears comparison to Clio Bernards’ ‘Embrace Of The Serpant’, yet is absolutely it’s own film – a stunning film on grief and political turmoil, following a man searching for the bodies of his two sons after corrupt government forces ramshack his village. A tough watch, but absolutely unforgettable – a section where he stands off against a general in a bar will have you on the edge of your seat.


  • Simple Women: Presented By Femspectives – a wildly inventive debut from Chiara Malta, following a female filmmaker Federica obsessed with Hal Hartby’s ‘Simple Men’ – specifically the female lead Elina Lowensohn. When she finally meets Elena (actually played by Elena Lowensohn) she jumps at the opportunity to make a film about her life. However, Federica’s film & life start to unravel as she discovers Elena isn’t quite as perfect as she imagined. A feminist take on ‘Synecdoche, New York’ and ‘Being John Malkovich’, a brilliant and sharp comedy.