Reflections on Glasgow Film Festival 2018

This was my third visit to Glasgow Film Festival as a punter. It’s an ambitious festival with a strong local-global feel. It appeals to its local audience with a diverse range of events and activities, often linked to screenings of well-loved Hollywood films. There is also a focus on Scottish filmmakers – writers, directors, stars and their films and in the last couple of years a new ‘Industry’ strand supporting Scottish filmmaking. But it also celebrates the heritage of Glasgow Film Theatre with a similarly diverse range of foreign language films with directors and stars offering Q&As for some events. It’s this last strand that tends to be the focus for this blog.

Festival co-directors Allison Gardner and Alan Hunter work hard to find films at other international festivals and via their networks and contacts. I’m conscious this year that the range of films on offer felt different but I know that often this is dependent on what is picked up by sales agents or major distributors and then what is selected for Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto. I usually hope to visit for three or four days, seeing between two and four films a day so any kind of overview is more about reading the brochure than what I’ve actually seen.

This year, the same sad trends are in evidence across the festival programme as I’ve noted at Leeds and London in recent years – the gradual shrinkage of the range of films available from Africa and Asia. I couldn’t find a single African or Indian film. Glasgow is one of the centres for the Africa in Motion festival later in the year, but the Indian cinema problem is I think as much to do with the failure of the distributors of Indian independent films to get involved in international distribution. This year, Glasgow did highlight Irish films and ‘Baltic’ films in two of its strands as well as casting a wide net for other strands such as Documentary, FrightFest and ‘Pioneer’ (first-time directors).

My usual 3/4 days expanded to six this year because of the weather which prevented me leaving by train. Unfortunately the snow was so bad that parts of the festival closed down completely and I was faced with only a limited programme on my extra couple of days. I must praise the staff at GFT for re-opening on the Thursday 1st March after struggling to get in to work. As co-director Allan Hunter quipped, the Blitz spirit was abroad on Rose Street. I think I ended up seeing more films than usual that have already or are soon about to open on general release. I also probably saw more archive prints. My highlights of the festival were therefore Sweet Country and Zama and, a revelation, the three films I managed from the Ida Lupino retrospective. I hope to be back in Glasgow next year – perhaps better prepared for ‘Red’ snow warnings!


  1. Tom Vincent

    Hi Roy,

    Thanks as ever for your blog, which often points to structural or institutional concerned in film cultures. It’s been interesting to observe the apparent traction with audiences that Glasgow FF (which I’ve never been to) has achieved while Edinburgh FF (which I went to several times) seems to have lost its prior cache.

    I’m also interested in “the failure of the distributors of Indian independent films to get involved in international distribution.”. This also concerns me here in Perth and I’m to understand it better. Do you mean that there’s a reluctance to pursue international sales? I’ve always understood risk of piracy to be the overriding concern here.



    • Roy Stafford

      Hi Tom

      We had a discussion about Indian Independents during the ‘Not Just Bollywood’ season at HOME. I think piracy might have been a concern once but other factors are probably now more important. Some of the independent producer-directors are now looking to Netflix and other streaming providers to find their audiences. The main problem though appears to be an almost total lack of infrastructure to help Indian titles to sell abroad. In many territories the Indian distributors (i.e. those companies with offices in India and in London and other overseas cities) still look almost exclusively at attracting diaspora audiences, who themselves seem quite insular and won’t necessarily consider an Indian film without stars. In this sense, I think diaspora audiences are ‘behind’ audiences in Indian metros.

      Personally, I think that festivals are still key to any overseas sales, but if the interest doesn’t come from festivals in the west, (such as the London Indian Film Festival) I’m not sure that there are any agencies from India looking to push films.

      The real answer is that nobody knows why this isn’t happening. There are several film industries in India and they go about doing things in different ways. You must have noticed that mainstream Hindi films have been doing very well in China, especially Aamir Khan’s films.

      You might want to look at this discussion:

      I think what comes out of this most for me is the need to develop an Indian Film Festival (in India) that sets out to have the same kind of impact that Busan has in showcasing East Asian films, doing something similar for South Asian films for the international market.


      • Tom Vincent

        You’re right about Netflix I think.

        Two years ago we found good non-diaspora audiences for The Crow’s Egg in Perth Festival, but this the single example of success came about because that film was released through the independent distributor Transmission who recognised an opportunity to reach Indian audiences in cinemas.

        As in the UK with mainstream Indian cinema, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu films as well as Hong Kong, mainland Chinese and Korean films are all distributed in parallel in Australia and are marketed exclusively to those diasporas through a few of the national cinema chains. This is frustrating to me as I often think I can find non-diaspora audiences for some of these films by showing them at Perth Festival, I believe there is decent enough audience interest. But whenever I talk to the distributors of these films about it they tell be the same thing; that piracy is such a significant risk that the films must be released globally as close as possible to simultaneously. Thus there is no lead-in time for festivals like ours, who have to plan their programs and marketing several months in advance.

        I’m going to keep talking about this locally and look for opportunities. I am sometimes told (correctly) that there is not enough Asian cinema in our programme, but I keep coming up against this problem. I wish Busan had more of an influence in this area as regards Australia.



      • Roy Stafford

        What you describe in terms of Australian distribution (unsurprisingly) matches exactly what I found in New Zealand. The Crows Egg had the same possibilities in the UK (I saw it at Leeds FF) but didn’t get much further. What’s needed in distribution is perhaps an influx of new staff with a broader outlook or the creation (backed by national cultural policies) of a new distributor pledged to distributing Asian titles to both non-diaspora and diaspora audiences. It would help if film schools and film education generally put more emphasis on film distribution and exhibition. I was pleased to see this is happening at FEMIS in Paris (as shown in The Graduation (France 2016)). More bright young and committed people coming through?


  2. keith1942

    Glasgow sounds interesting. The low representation from Asia and Africa seems like a British problem. I could not catch them but there were a fair representation of such films at the Berlinale. This Festival, like Goteborg and Amsterdam, is involved in funding projects for films from these continents.
    The British system does seem more insular than the continental. Some comments suggest this is down to audiences. But I think the major problem is with the distributors. And the exhibitors follow in their footsteps. Both Picturehouse and the Hyde Park Picture House have less varied programmes than a couple of years ago. I find myself going down to Sheffield to catch rare films and I note Roy frequently travels to HOME in Manchester.
    I am not sure what the solution is. The Film Society scene has been replaced by Cinema-for-All, frequently with ‘pop-up’ cinemas which has a lower visual quality than old-style 16mm. Roy and I appear fortunate in being able to fill gaps by attending Festivals.


    • Omar Ahmed

      I agree with many of the views noted here. And I do think we have regressed somewhat with the distribution and exhibition of Indian cinema here in the UK. Nothing seems to have changed over the years. Although the likes of Kashyap’s get through, that is pretty much it. Everything else in terms of independent, alternate Indian cinema is getting snapped up by streaming sites like Netflix. That makes it problematic to exhibit in the traditional way. I do think the London Indian Film Festival is still important but the films get screened a few times and then disappear into an abyss since the home video market in India has collapsed due to piracy and the emergence of digital platforms – although this is problem is increasingly being resolved by the greedy interventions of Netflix and which often means you have to drill down to find the good stuff, all due to their crappy algorithm.

      What we need is perhaps the NFDC and the Film Bazaar initiative to establish some kind of office or presence here in the UK and elsewhere whereby they can forge better links with local distributors (as Roy suggests). But I also agree that it is a cultural grassroots problem here in the UK since Indian cinema is often never taught in schools and colleges and audiences still view Indian cinema through the prism of Bollywood. We did have the BFI India on Film season last year which was significant but the BFI have to ensure they are consistent in their approach to promoting global cinema. More risks and consistency needed from film programming in general in the UK and HOME have proven it is possible. In 2019, Indian Parallel Cinema turns 50, a seminal moment in film history, but it will be interesting to see to what extent this registers with distributors, exhibitors and programmers internationally.


      • Tom Vincent

        Thanks Omar, these are good points and especially about film education.

        I do think though that if independent Indian films are being acquired in bulk by Netflix in particular, and Netflix remains hostile their titles being programmed in cinemas, it is already ‘game over’ for this, even with the active interest of cinema programmers (e.g. me) and audiences.

        That said, both Netflix and Amazon are apparently acquiring far fewer films this year than last. Let’s keep watching and talking.


  3. Omar Ahmed

    I agree, initially there was a sudden flood of Indian indie titles on Netflix but now it seems to have tailed off a little, probably because Netflix are now beginning to invest in their own film content in India, with new films and TV series on the horizon. And as to the MSc in Film, Exhibition and Curation, that sounds like an ideal starting point for opening up new vagaries into accessing Asian cinema here in the UK.


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