The GFT & Me
This Christmas, Rhiannon Walsh writes a love letter to the Glasgow Film Theatre, an independent cinema championing inclusivity and judgement-free cheer all year round. It just so happens to boast a wonderful festive programme too.
In my six years living in Glasgow, there is a place I’ve laughed in, cried in, made out and fallen asleep in. Sometimes all in the one night. It’s not a pub or a nightclub, but the celebrated and much loved Glasgow Film Theatre, located in the very heart of the city centre.
Built in 1939, the independent cinema was Scotland’s first art-house cinema and has since become a beloved venue; both locals and tourists climb the butterfly staircase and make themselves comfortable in the mid-century furniture, settling in for Q&A sessions with Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker and filmmaker Richard Linklater. The GFT has been a staple in creating some of my best Weegie memories, thanks to its affordable tickets and exclusive screenings of audience favourites such as The Room and Purple Rain. The general atmosphere in the GFT is that if a zombie apocalypse were to start outside, at least you’d go out with a good film and a glass of wine.
No more do these feelings of warmth, nostalgia and momentary bliss take hold than in the lead up to Christmas. Just like my desire to dig out my tackiest Christmas jumper on December 1st, so does my craving to consume as many festive films as I can. The GFT embraces that, attempting to turn back the clock to when Santa was real and your highest priority on Christmas eve was to leave a carrot for his reindeer, by screening festive classics such as Elf and Jingle All The Way.
My favourite annual showing (and arguably the best Christmas film of all time?) is Brian Henson’s 1992 The Muppet Christmas Carol. Nothing beats the adaptation of Charles Dickens’ holiday tale interspersed by Muppet cameos, the overall positive message to be kinder to people and of course, mini Kermit the Frog as Tiny Tim. The first time I ever saw the film on the big screen was at the GFT. I was in the middle of my first year of university and was feeling homesick. The impression that Christmas just wasn’t Christmassy anymore was insurmountable. The part of me that revelled in the buzz that Christmas usually brings, from getting excited over seeing the Coca-Cola advert on TV to coordinating a Christmas morning song and dance routine with my little sister, was fading away – replaced with deadlines and stress. My childhood Christmas-loving self was shaking her head at who I had become.
So, I bought a ticket, desperate to be transported to a world of Christmas cheer. Before long I was captured by Michael Caine wearing a nightgown for 89 minutes, singing vegetables and catchy musical numbers - all narrated by The Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. I laughed, shed a tear or two – and also got a bit freaked out by that 900-year-old child who shows Scrooge his Christmas past. But ultimately, I left the cinema with a spring in my step and the sensation of hot apple cider running through my veins.
I felt as if I could wrap Christmas presents at the speed of light again, and sing O Holy Night until I lost my voice. I walked out of the cinema that evening with the warm appreciation that maybe everything was, in fact, going to be alright. I had the same feeling of years prior; as I ate the entire contents of a selection box for Christmas breakfast, or when I sat beside the fire, surrounded by my family, happy and full as we watched the Christmas Eastenders special. It didn’t matter that none of us ever watched it at any other time of the year.
The Christmas spirit has been returned to me, for the price of a cinema ticket. Since then, there has not been a year I have missed out on the warm and tingly feelings that come with getting to watch your festive favourites on the big screen. They feel as important to me as the smell of pine or the sense of accomplishment that comes from creating the perfect sandwich from Christmas lunch leftovers.
As well as reigniting my Christmas cheer, the GFT has had a considerable impact on my health. For the last couple of years, I have suffered from ME and Fibromyalgia, which take their toll on a daily basis, gifting me with incredible fatigue and severe joint and muscle pains. Simple everyday tasks – walking to the shop, going on a night out with friends – suddenly become hard due to these chronic conditions.
As much as I wish my symptoms took a Christmas break, they don’t. In fact, they seem to work overtime. Stress and travel can have a huge impact on my body and symptoms increase at social gatherings, which unfortunately affects how many festive activities I can take part in. Standing outside to see the Christmas lights turn on or walking around a festive market for hours in the cold can be particularly difficult when your legs feel like they are made of lead or that you’re going to pass out from exhaustion. The GFT allows me to take part in the lead-up to Christmas, in the same way I like to do most things in life: sitting somewhere cosy, with snacks. No one minds if I turn up in tracksuit bottoms, sore and heavy with a hot water bottle under my coat, or bats an eye when I take out the blanket smuggled in my bag. For that, I am grateful.
There is a personability to the GFT which makes it feels like you’re going to your friend’s house to watch a movie, rather than sitting in a cineplex with a bunch of strangers. This accessible and inclusive quality also extends to the staff members, putting in extra effort to ensure all cinemagoers are catered for. This transpires in the GFT’s monthly screenings for D/deaf and hearing impaired audiences, which are captioned and offer a post-screening conversation interpreted by British Sign Language. An Access Film Club also occurs monthly and provides those with autism, Asperger Syndrome and learning difficulties, a safe and welcoming space to enjoy a film and discuss it afterwards. Auditorium lights are lower, trailers are turned off and patrons are encouraged to sit wherever they feel comfortable, encouraging a relaxed viewing experience. The GFT proves that cinema can be available to all, providing the venue puts the work in.
It is vital that we learn from this accessibility and inclusivity encouraged by independent cinemas across the board. At a time when consuming film couldn’t be easier and there is a new Christmas Netflix Original thrust into our inbox every week, local cinemas should be supported, before our only option is to watch films from the comfort of our own home. There is huge pleasure to be found in the ritual of going to the cinema to see a Christmas film that was probably first released on VHS; from taking in the festive lights as you make your way there, to maybe stashing a mince pie in your pocket to enjoy during the trailers and, of course, seeing how well your favourite has aged as you watch it in its HD glory. Close down that grainy stream of Miracle on 34th Street, and see if this Yule time you can see it on your local picturehouse’s big screen. I promise you won't regret it.
The Glasgow Film Theatre has been through its ups and downs, from lengthy renovations in 2016 to the fires at The Glasgow School of Art forcing the cinema to close its doors temporarily. But like all of us, the GFT dusts itself down, and gets back up again. It is that persistence, charm and warmth that keeps me coming back all year round, and I implore you to do the same. Because independent cinemas aren’t just for Christmas, they’re for life.
You can see the full Christmas line-up of films at The GFT here, including the aforementioned The Muppets Christmas Carol, Die Hard, Home Alone and Tangerine.
Rhiannon Walsh (@thenapkween) is a freelance writer, content creator and zine-maker based in Glasgow. She spends most of her time writing for The Chronic Project and hanging out with her pet rabbit Duncan.