LAST year’s Glasgow Film Festival was one of the last arts events to go ahead before coronavirus closed everything down. Unfortunately, a year on, it hasn’t been so lucky, and things are still some way from opening up.

But, like Celtic Connections, the GFF has opted to go ahead anyway, moving totally online with this year’s programme. Films will stream for a few days with limited ticket numbers (so book early).

The festival opens on February 24 with Lee Isaac Chuung’s semi-autobiographical heart warmer Minari (tickets selling fast, by the way), this year’s GFF offers the usual smorgasbord of world cinema, premieres and surprises.

To whet your appetite, here are 10 films on the programme worth looking out for:

Black Bear

HeraldScotland:

What’s this? Another chance to revel in Aubrey Plaza’s cool-cruel persona? Well, that’s how Black Bear begins, certainly.

Plaza, best known for Parks and Recreation and Dirty Grandpa, plays a filmmaker who turns up at a remote guest house and does her best to undermine the already failing relationship of her hosts played by Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadron. So far, so Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

But Lawrence Michael Levine’s film is a rather tricksier beast than that. As things come to a head, the whole story is then given a reboot and the first half of the film is restaged as a film within a film, with the roles tweaked and extra drama offered from the film crew who surround the three leads. A kind of meta-morphosis, you might say (Sorry, not sorry).

The result is an indie take on hothouse melodrama that has a real queasy pull to it. This GFF screening is a UK premiere.

Black Bear runs from February 27 to March 2

City Hall

HeraldScotland:

So, is a four-and-a-half-hour movie about local government your idea of fun? Turns out, it is mine. Veteran fly-on-the-wall documentary maker Frederick Wiseman, who has just turned 91, brings his close, unobtrusive attention to the civic workings of the city of Boston. Filmed in 2018 and 2019, Wiseman sits in on education boards and police briefings, watches traffic control, a Veterans Day gathering, a Red Sox world series parade and follows Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh through numerous meetings and greetings.

Walsh is the film’s centre – a recovering alcoholic, a cancer survivor and, inevitably (this is Boston, after all), an Irish American – who is portrayed here, perhaps a little too reverently, as the anti-Trump (the new President has since nominated him as his labor secretary).

But, in many ways, it’s the film’s quietness and the civility that Wiseman repeatedly finds at work in local government that speaks up most strongly for democracy, even when the issues being discussed – the city’s problems with deprivation and poverty, white overrepresentation in positions of power in a hugely diverse city, health care or the lack of it – show the problems the city faces.

The whole thing becomes rather hypnotic. It’s rare that anyone pays this much attention to all the small stuff that affects us every day. And it’s often fascinating. There’s a sequence in which bin men bring larger and larger items to the bin lorry. First, a mattress, then a bed, and finally an outdoor grill. That’s never going to go in, you think. The lorry just chews them all up. More exciting than any Marvel movie, quite frankly.

Oh yeah, and stay to the end for a knockout version of The Star-Spangled Banner as sung by a couple of cops.

City Hall streams from March 5 to March 8

Da Capo

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Arriving trailing comparisons to Sing Street and School of Rock, Shim Chan-yang’s second film follows a struggling musician who teams up with an old friend to tutor school pupils who want to be a rock band. The experience rekindles the musician’s own musical dreams. A Korean indie about, umm, Korean indie, by the looks of it.

Da Capo streams from February 27 to March 2

The Dissident

HeraldScotland:

Hatice Cengiz. Taken from the documentary The Dissident

Bryan Fogel’s documentary about the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Turkish consulate of Saudi Arabia plays like a glossy contemporary political thriller, but there’s real-life horror at its heart.

By talking to friends and fellow activists, including the journalist’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz, The Dissident charts Khashoggi’s journey from reformer to dissident and the brutality of his murder in 2018. In doing so it also investigates Saudi power politics, the impact of the Arab Spring, and the small-but-odious role in the story played by President Trump.

Fogel won an Oscar for his film Icarus about Russian doping and The Dissident paints a damning portrait of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The result has been too hot for the big streaming services who have all steered clear.

The Dissident is available from March 6 to March 9

Eye of the Storm

Scottish painter James Morrison, who died last year, was filmed during the last two years of his life by filmmaker Anthony Baxter. This world premiere is a portrait of the artist as an old man, dealing with failing eyesight and poor health, while celebrating the range and power of his work. There’s an accompanying soundtrack from Karine Polwart.

Eye of the Storm streams from February 28 to March 3

Gunda

There’s a moment about halfway through Viktor Kossakovsky’s beautiful, immersive new movie which is simply (in every sense) thrilling. A herd of cows bound into the open air from a barn. Caught in slo-mo black and white, they appear to be jumping for joy.

Kossakovsky’s documentary is one of the best examples of slow cinema. Over 90 minutes, it simply pays attention to the animals it trains the lens on. Gunda, the titular character, is a sow who has just birthed a new litter of piglets. Her family are the main focal point of Kossakovsky’s film, although as well as the aforementioned cows, there are also a few chickens, including one that has one leg and little fear by the looks of it.

By simply paying close attention to their everyday lives, Kossakovsky goes some way to making the animals subjects rather than objects. They remain animals rather than anthropomorphic projections.

And they are farm animals. We are reminded of that at the end in a scene that may break your heart. Unless you are too busy making a bacon sandwich.

Gunda is available from March 7 to March 10

The Mauritanian

HeraldScotland:

After spending the last few years making documentaries, Scottish director Kevin MacDonald returns to big-budget cinema with this star-studded adaptation of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s memoir Guantanamo Diary. Tahar (The Serpent) Rahim plays Slahi, who was held for 14 years in Guantanamo Bay without charge by the US government despite protesting his innocence. Jodie Foster plays his lawyer and Benedict Cumberbatch turns up as the prosecuting officer. How the film squares the familiar pleasures of the legal thriller with an account of Bush-era human rights abuses will be interesting to see.

Streaming from February 25 to February 28

Poly Styrene: I am a Cliche

“Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard/But I think "Oh bondage! Up yours!”

Poly Styrene, the mixed-race frontwoman of punk band X-Ray Spex, is the subject of a new documentary by Edinburgh film-maker Paul Sng and Celeste Bell, Poly’s daughter. It’s a story of punk’s possibilities and shortcomings, mental health (Poly was bipolar), religious belief and music as a form of expression. Possibly more interesting than another documentary about the Sex Pistols, to be honest.

Streaming from February 27 to March 2

Shorta

HeraldScotland:

It begins with a man being forcibly held by a police officer and gasping out the words “I can’t breathe.” Sound familiar?

Shorta – a caption tells us it’s an Arabic word for “Police” – is a Danish thriller that follows two cops on routine patrol who find themselves in the middle of a race riot after the death of the man who can’t breathe.

Themes of police brutality and social divisions are woven into a neat thriller that conjures up memories of the best films of John Carpenter and Walter Hill.

Shorta streams from February 28 to March 3

Wildland

And there’s more than one Danish crime drama at this year’s GFF. Wildland marks the debut of Jeanette Nordahl, who cut her teeth on the TV series Borgen. Here, she turns Borgen star Sidse Babett Knudsen into a crime matriarch who takes her grieving teenage niece Ida (Sandra Guldberg Kampp) into her family after Ida’s addict mother dies in a car accident. Ida soon shows a proclivity for criminal behaviour herself.

Streaming March 4 to March 7

For more details of the programme or to buy tickets, visit glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival