Watching movies in an Edwardian bathhouse used as a mortuary for casualties during World War II, and possibly haunted by evil spirits, is an appealing proposal – especially during the month of Halloween. How does one attend such a festive experience? The Southside Film Festival! It is back for its fifth year and it all kicks off on Thursday the 8th of October. One of the standout features of the festival is the ingenious use of remarkable buildings such as The Govanhill Baths: it is Glasgow’s last surviving Edwardian public bathhouse, originally built to provide somewhere to wash, but this weekend the building will be used for screenings of United We Will Swim…Again!, the story of Southside residents to save the bathhouse and keep it within the community, and That Sinking Feeling, the film debut of the Scottish director Bill Forsyth, a story about four boys during the Thatcher era of Glasgow.
If watching a movie while sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool doesn’t float your boat then perhaps you should check out the screening of Martin Scorsese’s adorable Hugo in the grand setting of Queens Park Church. There are many events over the weekend with all details on their website.
As a voracious film-watcher I was very pleased to discover a small festival in the south of Glasgow. However, I started to wonder about the purpose of film festivals: sometimes they are all about business, with larger festivals such as Cannes or Sundance seeming like industry events, designed to bring business opportunities in a way smaller festivals can’t compete with. So what is it that small regional festivals, without the big premieres or important guests, hope to achieve? What is their purpose?
On the festival’s website Karen O’Hare explains that the reason for the Southside festival and the quirky choice of venues is due to the absence of a local cinema in the Southside of Glasgow, with the festival as a way to bring the community together to bond over and access movies. My thoughts are slightly conflicted about this: it seems idealistic to expect the community of Southside Glasgow will come together over old movies in cold buildings, often with an entrance fee. Yes, it is cool and artsy for those who have an interest in experimental silent documentaries by a Soviet director or maybe an old movie with rustic French food for only £30, but that certainly isn’t everyone.
However, the Southside Film Festival also offers plenty of support for local film-makers, including a short competition that requires you or your film to have a direct link to the area for entry, screenings of old classics in interesting venues, and workshops where you can learn, among other things, to write a film review with award-winning journalist and broadcaster Siobhan Synnot. And while it might not boast premieres of upcoming world releases like Cannes, it has rare screenings of unique films relevant to the area that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
Programme highlights include: on Friday the 9th, a screening of the 1950 film The Gorballs Story, a portrait of a working-class Glasgow, in a listed former church built in 1861, that is believed to be the first screening of the film in Gorballs since the ‘50s; Saturday’s United We Will Swim… Again!, a new documentary about the struggle to re-open the Govanhill Baths for public swimming; and Sunday’s Southside Filmmaker Screening & Award, an all-out celebration of local cinema.
But under all this, I imagine the real reason for the existence of regional film festivals can be traced back to that miraculous moment when two strangers encounter for the first time and spend a prodigious amount of time discussing their favourite films. Perhaps this is how Southside Film festival intends to support the local community: by inspiring a sense of sharing and a strengthening of bond. North of the river, many students are sure find themselves cocooned in Hillhead and the West End with only short bursts into the City Centre – so I suggest, if that’s you, get down to the Southside of Glasgow and experience the atmosphere, check out the buildings, and become a part of the wider Glasgow community.