Starring Glasgow, a character actor of many parts

When did the dream begin? Perhaps when the film awards came to town, during Glasgow's celebration as European City of Culture 1990. Maybe it was earlier, after seeing its necropolis perched on the skyline in the opening shot of Bertrand Tavernier's Deathwatch. Nobody knows, and maybe nobody cares - for Glasgow's vision of itself as a movie- making centre is now a reality.

This year, four feature films will be made in the city. Out of the 33 films made north of the border since 1990, eight have been shot in Glasgow.

When you look at the well-preserved Victorian houses of the West End, combined with the commercial centre's more contemporary buildings - or even the decaying cranes of the docklands - you understand why the city appeals to film-makers. Glasgow, or parts of it, has been used as a stand-in for many cities, from Moscow in Gorky Park and An Englishman Abroad to the Vatican in Heavenly Pursuits, where the interior of the city's elegant city chambers was used.

The director David Hayman, of Silent Scream fame, considers it "the most cinematic city in the world". His new thriller, The Near Room, is set entirely in Glasgow. "It's so rich - you can find architectural references to New York, Paris, Moscow, London." No wonder Scott Rudin, who produced The Firm, is investigating the possibility of using the city to represent period New York.

"The people are brilliant, too," says Shallow Grave's producer, Andrew McDonald. "In Glasgow, the local authorities help you. They want you to make films." He contrasts this with London, where, Mr McDonald says, co-operation from local authorities is virtually non-existent. And, unlike London, Glasgow only has one local authority to deal with.

Mr McDonald relied on the wealth of local talent to crew Shallow Grave. The city employs more than 77 per cent of Scotland's broadcasters, and has a reputation as home of some of the world's finest technicians.

Mr McDonald says he'll be using the same local crew again for his next film, Trainspotting, about drug addicts and alcoholics, which will draw on the deprivation for which Glasgow is well known. "But," he stresses, "that will be used to make it all the more surprising - the last thing we want is a grim film."

Three out of this year's four Glasgow films - Trainspotting, The Near Room, a thriller, and, Gillies MacKinnon's Easterhouse, a rites-of-passage gangland movie set in a Sixties housing estate, are linked by a dark, film noir element. Some would say this accurately reflects the city itself. But while Glasgow's gritty reputation comes from decades of television dramas such as Taggart and films such as The Big Man, it is not, understandably, actively promoted by the Glasgow Film Fund (GFF), though it is backing The Near Room, Easterhouse, and Ken Loach's latest project, Carla's Song. "I think it's an advantage," says Eddie Dick, the fund's director, "as long as it doesn't strait-jacket the city into a role."

The image hasn't stoppedmore light-hearted films, such as Gregory's Girl or Soft Top Hard Shoulder, being made here. Carla's Song, half of which will be filmed in Glasgow, is also more upbeat, being a love story between a Glaswegian bus driver and a Nicaraguan refugee; seen through their eyes, the city is a haven.

Despite the presence of Glasgow as a key player in all GFF-funded films this year, the city's guest-starring appearances aren't part of a particular policy to promote the city's image to tourists. The GFF, a partnership of local authorities and the development agency, supported by the European Regional Development Fund, is primarily interested in building up the industry - and making money. Kevin Kane, chairman of the GFF, is dismissive of "beautifully shot films for art-house cinemas", and stresses: "We're only involved in films that would be commercially successful, films that will cater to an international market."

The fund ensures that its films contribute to the local economy, but of course it can't guarantee commercial success in a high-risk business. "You can only go on the fact that a film has funding from credible sources elsewhere," says Mr Kane.

The risk paid off with Shallow Grave, the city's first investment. The public money that enabled the film to be made had already been recouped before it opened in January. The latest UK sales figures have reached £2.25m, more than twice its cost.

Shallow Grave is now being touted around Europe and America as a flagship for the city's film sector. Kevin Kane grins when he says it's only the beginning.