'It's about being as open-minded as possible': Allan Hunter on Glasgow Film Festival 2012

The Glasgow Film Festival has gone from strength-to-strength in the past few years, with the launch of the 2012 programme much-anticipated by film fans around the country.

Ahead of the press launch on the evening of 18 January, we sat down with Festival co-director Allan Hunter to find out what's coming to Glasgow between 16 - 26 February, how the team decide what to show and what it's been like to see the Festival grow to its current stature.

What can you tell me about the films you've chosen for 2012, particularly the Scottish talent on offer?

The opening gala is Your Sister's Sister, about a man who's getting over the death of a friend so he arrives at his friend's family cottage and when he turns up her half sister is already there, and I can't tell you more than that. The closing gala is Aki Kaurismäki's Le Havre, which was at Cannes and has won a lot of prizes.

There are quite a lot of Scottish films this year, such as Zam Salin's Up There, starring Burn Gorman. Zam's done quite a lot of shorts, including Laid Off, which this is based on. It's a sort of lugubrious existential black comedy and the premise is that a guy dies and discovers that the afterlife isn't as exciting as he wants it to be, it's all a bit disappointing really. He's sent to work to look after the newly-dead and it takes off from there.

We've got Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy, starring the charismatic Adam Sinclair, and there's Silver Tongues which is based on a Scottish short but it's now an American indie because that's where the funding came from. Decoy Bride is there, starring David Tennant and Kelly Macdonald, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen with Ewan McGregor.

You might remember at last year's Scottish BAFTAs that David Peat was given the Outstanding Contribution for Craft Award, so we're going to show the Billy Connolly documentary, Big Banana Feet, which he worked on with Murray Grigor and they'll chat over old times.

The big film in our Out of the Past strand is Bertrand Tavernier's Death Watch, a film set in Glasgow which has been out of circulation for a while. There is a glorious digital restoration and Tavernier is coming over for that; he's a big fan of Glasgow and of The Ubiquitous Chip!

Away from Scotland, are there any other big films in the programme?

We've got Black Gold, starring Mark Strong, Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo and Bel Ami starring Robert Pattinson. Michael Winterbottom's Trishna is there, Dexter Fletcher's Wild Bill and the Werner Herzog documentary Into the Abyss. Sadly Werner won't be here as he'll be in the jungles of Guatemala at the time.

There's also a brilliant Spanish film called Wrinkles, which is an animation in an Illusionist mode and is based on a graphic novel about dementia and old age, which sounds depressing but isn't. Peter Bradshaw said it was the best film he'd seen in San Sebastian last year.

Frightfest is back and I think everything is a UK premiere, including The Devil Inside, which just opened in the States and took tons of money. There's also The Raid, an Australian film called The Crawl and The Day from Canada.

Studio Canal have restored another batch of Hammer films so we'll have Dracula Prince of Darkness, The Reptile and Plague of Zombies.

You always have a strong documentary strand, what do you have this year?

It's bigger this year than it's ever been. We've got How to Die in Oregon, set in the only state in America that has legalised assisted suicide. There's How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire, about a guy who looked into his family history and knew that they'd come from Russia a couple of generations back. He went to the town they came from and discovered they'd at one point owned a vodka distillery, so he tries to revive that.

There's a documentary on actress Carol Channing, looking at her career in Hello Dolly and The Muppet Show but she also how she met her childhood sweetheart when she was in her 80s and they ended up getting married. She's now 92 and they're having the happy marriage they could have had years before.

There's a new strand called Crossing the Line for more experimental films, there's a Jan Švankmajer film and Ben Rivers documentaries, plus various live performances.

As part of the country focus on Germany we've got an Ernst Lubitsch silent, The Loves of Pharaoh, which is a new restoration.

How does the Festival come together and when do you start planning?

By the time 2011 had finished, we had a fair idea of what the retrospective and country focus would be. I know now what we'll ideally be doing in 2013, partly because it's dictated by obvious centenaries and anniversaries, such as the centenary of the birth of Gene Kelly.

I think I said yes to our first film in June or July 2011. Cannes is our first big shopping trip. Le Havre, our closing night gala was there, Stopped on Track and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia were both there.

It seriously starts to take shape after Toronto because people have started to make decisions on their release dates.

The last few years has seen the Festival explode in popularity. What's it been like being from your side and why so you think it has it taken off?

It takes a while for something to get established. There was a certain point at which you became aware that from people not really knowing it existed to shifting towards people having expectations and coming up to you in January really looking forward to the programme.

That was maybe three or four years ago and it did just build from year to year, and you'd meet people who'd say “next year I'm going to take a week off and see lots of stuff” or “next year I must make sure I'm Glasgow the whole time”, so that's great. People are very good at telling you what they like and what they don't.

Where does the funding come from?

Our main funders are Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, EventScotland and Creative Scotland. We're at a stage in the economy where people will help you in kind if they don't necessarily have cash to give you, various deals with hotels with room, airlines and other in-kind help.

Last year's Edinburgh International Film Festival had its very public problems - what was it like seeing how things developed there?

Heartbreaking is the word that comes to mind. The first EIFF I went to was in 1974 and I've worked for the Festival in the past and it just seemed spectacularly adrift. I think it just needs someone to come in, draw a line and start all over again. Chris Fujiwara is a great choice and has good instincts and programming is in really good hands.

You describe yourself as the "people's festival", what does that actually mean?

I see it as meaning that it's without prejudice or barriers, it's not about defining festival films. We'll show Hobo with a Shotgun and The Devil Inside and we'll show something experimental and a Kaurismäki film alongside big American movies. It's an acknowledgment that people will go and see all kinds of movies and you can't limit or define what cinema means to people by saying you won't show something because it's too beneath you. It's about being as open-minded as possible.

Allison [Gardner, GFF co-director] and I have slightly different tastes but between us we seem to like what most people like.

Visit the Glasgow Film Festival website for full details of the programme.