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Article – Raindance Keeps Landing On Its Feet


Posted August 28, 2017 by

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Raindance Keeps Landing On Its Feet

I’m old enough to have gone to the first Raindance Film Festival, back when it was held in a barn – sorry, Planet Hollywood – and they screened Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead to about a dozen people who didn’t know what was about to be unleashed. Smash-cut to twenty four years later and Raindance is at it again, with a whole bunch of weird and wonderful movies, shepherded by impresario Elliot Grove, who has run the festival for its entire life. Grove also started the British Independent Film Awards (he saw a gap in the market and filled it) but they ought to be giving him awards, if the Order of Indoor Sunglasses is ever a thing.

Raindance showcases movies that make your jaw drop. From Thomas Clay’s The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael, the nearest any British film has got to the nihilism of Gaspar Noë, to Maeve Murphy’s Taking Stock, with Kelly Brook as a shop employee who turns to crime, Raindance premieres films that could end friendships, relationships, maybe even careers – Brook, I’m glad to say, is doing all right.

Taking place in the run up to the London Film Festival, Raindance doesn’t try to compete, the same way that Troma doesn’t try to compete with Hollywood. It was developed as London’s answer to the Sundance Film Festival with Piccadilly Circus standing in for Salt Lake City. It never really established itself in that vein – how do you replace mountain air with diesel fuel? It did survive because there are an awful lot of films that don’t make the LFF and cry out for a launch pad.

This may suggest that Raindance offers something sub-standard. Indeed, when you see a film at Sundance, you take a risk. You watch a film programmed by someone with very different tastes than your own, who may in fact be doing a filmmaker a favour. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, if you know it going in. You aren’t necessarily going to see the film that millions of people are talking about for years on end. But you might just see a film that you will be talking about for years afterwards – Robert Carmichael is that film for me.

This year’s festival takes place between 20 September and 1 October in the cosy environs of the newly-refurbished Vue, Leicester Square, though to me it will always be the Warner West End, on whose fabled glass doors I hammered ‘let me in’ when denied access to the press screening of After Hours. (We all do stupid stuff in our twenties.) The new Vue offers leather seats and sells square pies in the foyer – beat that, PictureHouse Central. It’s a cosy home for a festival of the independent and the eclectic, and offers filmmakers a bit of glamour for their premieres, which is a good thing.

Now for some shout-outs. Hurrah to the opening film, Oh Lucy, a comedy-drama from Japanese director Atsuko Hirayanagi. It is the quintessential Raindance film, quirky, unglamorous (though the cast includes Josh Hartnett) and a bit ‘what the heck’? It’s about a middle-aged Japanese woman who joins an English language class where all the students wear blonde wigs and are renamed Lucy. What happens next is not for me to say, but if you google the reviews of the film from this year’s Cannes Film Festival you’ll see phrases like ‘chocolate trifle with an arsenic core’ – Andrew Barker of Variety’s description, not mine.

Raindance offers British (and Scottish) filmmakers a showcase, with a number of films that debuted at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, including Edie, in which Just a Minute favourite Sheila Hancock (I’m showing my listening habits) climbs a mountain without hesitation, repetition or deviation, with the help of a young guide (Kevin Guthrie). Hitherto not known for taking a lead in a movie, Hancock has earned some of the best reviews of her big screen career (‘a stand-out performance’ – CineVue). She also appears in actor-turned-director Gary Love’s thriller, The Dark Mile, a sort of Duel of the riverbank, in which a young couple on a boating holiday are stalked by a creepy barge.

Raindance features some genuine discoveries like the documentary Penny Slinger: Out of the Shadows, about the titular artist who graduated from the Chelsea College of Art in 1969 and worked in collage, painting, photography and film. One website describes her as having a fascination ‘with goddesses in all their many forms’ with late works include ‘Flower Dakini Portal’. Who is Penny and what influence does she have? Richard Kovitch’s film has answers.

A more generic offering is Mitu Misra’s thriller Lies We Tell, a British drama starring Gabriel Byrne as a businessman drawn into the world of gangsters, with a cast that includes Harvey Keitel, Mark Addy and Sibylla Deen. Winston Wolf and Fred Flintstone in the same movie – what are you waiting for?

There are too many titles to summarise but world cinema is well represented by The Liberation of Skopje (Macedonia/Croatia/Finland), May God Save Us (Spain), Barrage (Luxembourg), Transmania (Croatia, again), Children of the Night (Italy), Scaffolding (Poland), Love is Thicker Than Water (Netherlands), A Trip To The Moon (Argentina) and the documentary Bluefin (Canada) the latter about overfished Bluefin tuna fish from director John Hopkins.

This is to say nothing of the wealth of shorts, web series (yes, web series) and Virtual Reality experiences. The back-end of the festival has a strong focus on VR, with 20 films in various genres.

Grove has assembled a super-talented jury of Brits to judge the movies, documentaries and shorts, headed by Jamie Campbell Bower (currently appearing as playwright Christopher Marlowe in the TV series, Will) and including such luminaries as Sean Bean, Jack O’Connell, Christopher Eccleston and Dog Soldiers director Neil Marshall, not to mention composer Rachel Portman and Secrets and Lies actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste. What can I say, Grove has an impressive Filofax. (Remember those?)

The full programme is published on the website with tickets on sale now.


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Larry Oliver
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    What a flattering article Larry, and thanks so much for getting the vibe of Raindance in such a great way.

    Jennie Lynn Griffiths

    An enticing rollercoaster review of Raindance past, present and future. Raindance’s movies and courses are brilliantly unique and real value for money. Elliot is a font of movie and screenwriting knowledge. If, like me, this review has whet your appetite for what’s to come of Raindance future at the 25th festival, come on down, it begins next Wednesday. If you like movies, grab your sunglasses, take a rain check and buy a pass to rain dance next week. Enjoy the ride!

    Anjali K Alford

    last year’s festival was fabulous, this year’s I’m sure will be surpass it.
    It is great to see new and different films, intriguing plots above – blocking out my calendar and hope to see as many as possible as well as go to talks to keep up-to-date with the latest.

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