Glasgow Film Theatre's 40 years of movie magic

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The Cosmo cinema on Rose Street
The Cosmo cinema on Rose Street

those three words for so many years written in mosaic in the foyer of Glasgow Film Theatre succinctly sum up the ethos of one of the city's best loved institutions.

GFT was born in 1974 with this very worthy ambition, but how has that translated over the past 40 years?

From niche arthouse films and offbeat foreign productions to family favourites, such as the Christmas tradition of Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life, the breadth of big-screen entertainment on offer hasn't let us down.

It was on this site 75 years ago that the Cosmo, GFT's predecessor, was opened by George Singleton, a member of one of Glasgow's well known cinema chain families, and Charles Oakley, chairman of the Film Society and Scottish Film Council.

Scotland's first arts cinema and only the second purpose-built arthouse in Britain, it was also notably the last cinema to be built in Glasgow before the outbreak of the Second World War.

After three decades it reopened as GFT on May 2, 1974, with a screening of Fellini's Roma and continued to grow and expand its programming with a remit for films beyond the commercial mainstream; following world cinema, film trends and, importantly, developing educational opportunities.

Generations have grown up falling in love with film at the Rose Street venue and everyone gets a chance to celebrate 40 momentous years of GFT and the 75th anniversary of the Cosmo with a special screening on Sunday, May 4 of Sundance and Cannes award winner Fruitvale Station, directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B Jordan.

"GFT is important because it is an iconic building, but also because it is a symbol of the fact that Glaswegians are intelligent, cine-literate, sociable creatures," explains head of cinemas and Glasgow Film Festival co-director Allison Gardner.

"In the early days of the festival we begged people to come to Glasgow and show their films. Now they come to us.

"A lot of distributors in London refer to the Glasgow effect: our film festival is different in that everyone can buy a ticket, so we put all our press in with the audience.

"When they're sitting in there the press respond more warmly to films because of the fact they are in with all our audience.

"The audience are really important because they have paid their money and taken the chance to come and see your film. Film-makers love that because it's a much more real experience for them."

Film fans in Glasgow simply love the GFT, and they are not alone. A star-studded list of celebrity visitors over the years testifies to the warm welcome and fabulous surroundings.

Glasgow Film Festival, now in its 10th year, plays host to filmmakers and director Joss Whedon was one of those who chose to premiere his latest work at the event last year with a screening of his adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.

"Joss Whedon was in and out of the cinema every 10 minutes, he was so nervous," remembers Allison.

"People were laughing at bits and he came out really, really happy."

Thanks to sympathetic changes over the years the 1930s building, designed by renowned local architects James McKissack and WJ Anderson and influenced by the work of Dutch modernist Willem Marinus Dudok, now includes the 142-seat Cinema 2 and recently opened 60-seat Cinema 3.

In fact much of the design of Cinema 3 and the revamped foyer has been inspired by the Cosmo's original art deco and art moderne styles.

Wonderful as these changes are, they are not being made purely for design aesthetics.

With attendance figures continuing to soar, reaching nearly 180,000 in the past year, there is much to keep the 20 full-time and 23 part-time staff busy.

GFT has 90,000 admissions per screen compared to an average of 45,000. What that means is the cinema takes its fair share of wear and tear.

"We are incredibly busy, so our building does take a real battering," says chief executive Jake McDougall.

"So when I see wee bits of carpet starting to fray here and there I know why that is."

Meanwhile work continues on the next phase of work. Due to be finished next year it will see the reinstatement of the butterfly staircase, harking back to the building's original design.

A not-for-profit organisation, most of GFT funding coming from ticket sales, the bars and private hires, core public partners include Creative Scotland and Glasgow City Council with additional investment from Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (People Make Glasgow), EventScotland and the British Film Institute for Glasgow Film Festival.

Film tastes might have changed over the years but the magic of the movie world is never lost on Glasgow's landmark arts venue.

angela.mcmanus@ eveningtimes.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment

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