Top Picks from Glasgow Film Festival 2021

From SXSW 2020 being cancelled this time last year, it took seven months for film festivals to migrate successfully to running 100% online. In October, London Film Festival created a universal and super accessible celebration of film which provided audiences across the country with new access to a festival which has often felt out of reach for the regions. It felt like a turning point and since then a range of festivals have delivered online versions of themselves with great success, with a handful of them now onto their second online edition. A few weeks ago Glasgow Film Festival arrived online, boasting a broad and enticing programme. Here are my top highlights from GFF 2021.

Minari (Directed by Lee Isaac Chung)

Partly autobiographical, Minari follows a young Korean family as they attempt to settle in Arkansas in the 1980s. Both cultural and generational differences put strain on the family as their patriarch trying to accomplish his dream of building and running a farm. Already the most talked about new-comer of this award season, and The Golden Globes Critics Choice winner, it is Alan S. Kim (only 7 at the time of filming) who steals the show. I haven’t enjoyed a child-actor’s performance this much since Brooklynn Prince stole my heart in The Florida Project (2017). Minari is a moving family drama filled with love, pain and, crucially, both adulthood and childhood naivety.

Surge (Directed by Aneil Karia)

Ben Whishaw gives a performance so raw and all consuming that you’ll completely forget he also voices a marmalade loving bear. The film has an intensity that reminded me of Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria (2015) but that lacks the same self-control and clear direction. Whishaw is a troubled airport security staffer who embarks on a violent 24-hours of chaos, as his fragile mental health and distress finally reaches breaking point. Surge is the film that Joker (2019) wishes it was but that’s more of an insult towards the latter rather than a compliment towards this suspenseful but rather lost psycho-study thriller.

Limbo (Directed by Ben Sharrock)

I was keen to see Limbo after hearing industry hype about it for many months prior. It’s a self-assured study of refugees residing in an isolated and fictional Scottish town, awaiting news of their request for asylum. There are crashing waves of both humour and sadness in equal measure. Moments of loud silence that say more than any words could. The beautiful cinematography is reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s best movies whilst the rich characters and delicate pacing give the film a complete individuality. It’s a striking film and no doubt one of the year’s best so far. Sharrock is one to watch.

Murmur (Directed by Heather Young)

Whilst completing community service at a dog shelter, Donna begins to take home dogs who otherwise face euthanasia. Meanwhile her daughter won’t answer her calls and she finds temporary comfort in her alcohol dependency. Soon her devotion to rescuing animals gets out of hand. In her directorial debut, Heather Young’s observational style frequently tricks you into thinking Murmur is a documentary. It’s an understated indie darling and a portrait of unconditional but misplaced love, found in the most unlikely of places. As a dog lover, it’s hard to resist falling in love with Murmur.

Tina (Directed by Daniel Lindsay & T.J. Martin)

Walking hand-in-hand with the icon herself, this music doc uses archive footage and intimate talking heads to celebrate the life and career of Tina Turner. It’s personal, revealing and joyous. Spending time with Turner herself is a warm and enjoyable place to be. It does what it says on the tin, painting a detailed portrait of an artist whose story has long been overshadowed by her famously abusive relationship with her husband. The best bit? Seeing Tina performing live through the decades, undoubtedly a rocker at heart whose dance moves rival Jagger’s.

The Dissident (Directed by Bryan Fogel)

It seems this is the year of the global-assassination-plot doc, with Assassins (a closer look at the murder of Kim Jong Nam), stunning us a few months ago. Now we have The Dissident from Bryan Fogel, a cinematic investigation into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Fogel is no stranger to uncovering political criminal scandal with Icarus (2017) winning him the Academy Award for best documentary. The Dissident is a little bloated but comes into its own in its final chapters. Despite issues with the storytelling and poor pacing – which I also experienced with Icarus – this is undeniably both a gripping and distressing documentary.

Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.

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