A YEAR ago, the curtain fell on the Glasgow Film Festival and Allison Gardner, as she has done for more than a decade, immediately turned her thoughts to the next one. Less than a fortnight later, Scotland was in lockdown.

At the time no-one really knows what to expect and for the next 12 months life, for many, became zoom calls, family quizzes, and a welcome escape from the rat race. 

But for Allison, the co-director of the festival, the show simply had to go on and a plan had to be made without ever really knowing what to expect in 2021. 

READ MORE: Glasgow Film Festival 2021 line-up announced

The end result is, unsurprisingly, a programme unlike any that’s gone before and – in a year of protests over racism and civil unrest – one which gives space to voices often unheard. 

“Every year we try and push the boat out a little bit and make it [the festival] accessible to ensure everyone feels welcome,” she says. “Sometimes film festivals can be an elitist thing. 

“I am currently watching the series Call My Agent! [a Netflix show which parodies French film culture] and in the episode I watched last night they were in Cannes and it really wasn’t the most accessible when your suite costs 2000 euros per night. That’s certainly not the case when I go to Cannes!

Glasgow Times: Monica Bellucci, one of the stars of Call My Agent! Monica Bellucci, one of the stars of Call My Agent!

“We have to have these conversations. Sometimes they are difficult. 

“Why are there not more black filmmakers in Scotland? 

“How can we help and be a bridge to help people realise their creativity vision?” 

The festival this year has launched Welcome To, a new programme with a focus on Black Scottish stories and, importantly for Allison, it has been curated by BAME artists Natasha Ruwona and Tomiwa Folorunso. 

“We want to let people have their voice and to share their work, not curated by me – an older, white Scottish woman – but curated by those people who know what they are doing and giving them the budget to do it,” Allison says. 

“Most festivals are run by old white guys and so we have to change the dynamic. 

“I know that, being a Glaswegian woman from a working-class background. My dad worked in the shipyards.

Glasgow Times: Natasha Ruwona (Picture: Natasha Ruwona) Natasha Ruwona (Picture: Natasha Ruwona)

“It’s tough and you have got to give people the chance and open that door.” 

That the festival will showcase premiers from across the world and give space to a diversity of voices is no mean feat, given Allison and co-director Allan Hunter have been wrestling with the uncertainty of a pandemic from day one. 

“There was no imminent prospect of lockdown during Glasgow Film Festival [GFF] 2020,” she says. 

“When we eventually locked down and closed the Glasgow Film Theatre [GFT], it was at that point I decided with festival manager Debbie [Aitken] to look at what a GFF online might mean. 

Glasgow Times: Tomiwa Folorunso (Picture: Ryan Buchanan) Tomiwa Folorunso (Picture: Ryan Buchanan)

“I am really excited. Not as excited as I am in a normal year but the Glasgow Film team has really done an extraordinary job in difficult circumstances.

“The most important people are the audience and we didn’t want to put things on sale, then have to refund them. 

“We made a decision to flip it completely online, having not a crystal ball or anything that could tell us about the pandemic.

“We had to make sure we were looking after the audience and we were being as honest as we could about what we thought the circumstances might be.

“But, everyone we have worked with has been super, super helpful. They all completely understand the complications of it all and that there are no cinemas open.”

Glasgow Times: A film about the life of Sir Alex Ferguson will premier at GFF 2021 A film about the life of Sir Alex Ferguson will premier at GFF 2021

For Allison, who is also chief executive of Glasgow Film, one of the challenges of the last year has been supporting staff, despite the doors to GFT being closed for much of that time. 

“We have been paying our staff 100% of their wages during lockdown and that’s  something people will really appreciate,” she says. “They know what kind of organisation they are dealing with.

“It’s not an easy thing to do but it’s the right thing to do.

“A lot of bigger organisations got rid of all of their staff without much notice and that must be so tough for all those people.” 

Despite the struggles, Allison remains optimistic people will flock back to cinemas when it is safe to do so. 

Glasgow Times: Allison outside the GFT Allison outside the GFT

“It is an interesting thing and I don’t think we will find out for some time,” Allison says.

“To give you a limited example, when we [GFT] opened in the autumn with our limited seats due to physical distancing measures, people were saying it was the safest experience they had had since lockdown.

“We were running at 99% capacity so we were selling the limited amount of seats we had available.

“There was an appetite to come back to cinema and I genuinely think, while loving the fact we can be online, that you cannot recreate that magical feeling.” 

The Glasgow Film Festival begins on Thursday, February 26, and tickets can be bought here