Described by The Guardian as the “indie-est film festival this side of the Atlantic”, the 20th Raindance Film Festival took place from 26 September – 7 October, and One&Other was there to enjoy the films selected from nearly 4000 submissions. But is this annual event worth the trip from York to London? Read on.
Raindance has come a long way since Canadian expat, Elliot Grove, founded the organisation in 1992. The annual festival (since 1993) has introduced the world to some incredible films: Pulp Fiction, The Blair Witch Project, Memento, Old Boy, Pusher, Down Terrace; all these and more premiered at Raindance. Alumni of the Raindance Film School include Guy Ritchie, Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright and David Yates, and last year a Masters Degree programme became the newest addition to the list of Raindance courses. Raindance.tv launched in 2007, and in 2010 Raindance opened offices in New York, Budapest, Berlin and Brussels. This year’s 20th anniversary festival boasted record-breaking attendance figures and screened new films from over 45 countries. Basically, Raindance is kind of a big deal in the indie film world, and this year’s success proves the organisation is in a better position than ever to support and promote independent film.
Realistically, however, the average film festival attendee doesn’t fully indulge in the numerous galas, masterclasses and networking events. Industry members and press obviously make up a significant part of attendance figures, but the public are vital to the festival’s continual existence and, ultimately, decide what makes a successful film at the box office. Evening screenings at Raindance are popular, but for most people the afternoons are taken up by those irritating things called ‘jobs.’ Furthermore, there are only so many films a single cinema-goer can watch over a weekend without developing a migraine, especially for those who might embark on the four hour round-trip by train from York to London.
Raindance’s humble festival headquarters are located in Apollo Cinema Piccadilly Circus. Press boards sporting this year’s logo dominated the space adjacent to the front desk. At the bottom of the neon-lit stairs, yellow post-it notes covered a misty glass wall; a mosaic of scrawled film praise from enthusiastic cinema-goers. In the bustling foyer, promotional items – timetables, postcards, leaflets, drinks – scattered the table tops. The air was excitable, staff friendly, the cinema alive with the festival atmosphere.
You can try to plan which films to see, but with overlapping screening times it’s often best to just see what you feel like throughout the day, or what’s recommended to you by a sociable cinephile. You’ll miss some great films, but you might discover a hidden gem in the process. However, I would say this luxury is reserved for those with festival passes. If you’re thinking of spending a single day at the festival, definitely try to book tickets beforehand (although these will cost you – as stated on Raindance’s site – “an arm and a leg”).
The quality of films screening this year was extremely high. There were enthralling documentaries and captivating stories from all over the world. Of those films I was fortunate enough to see, the following feature and documentary stood out:
About the Pink Sky (Dir. Keiichi Kobayashi) – This gorgeous Japanese feature follows the life of quirky high school girl, Izumi (Ai Ikeda), who finds a wallet seemingly belonging to a wealthy and attractive young boy. After discovering the boy’s father is the head of a local horseracing association, she becomes convinced the wallet contains ‘dirty money’. Izumi, together with her two friends, seeks to return the wallet and find out more about the handsome rich kid. Stylishly shot in black and white, the Japanese suburbs that house the film’s quaint story are made even more striking by a shallow depth-of-field. This is combined with a constant use of handheld, lending the film an almost documentary-like feel in its portrayal of these Japanese high-schoolers and their afterschool activities. Writer-director Kobayashi undoubtedly has a gift for writing young female characters, and the cast are strong and believable throughout. A lovely, slow-paced, idiosyncratic depiction of modern Japanese suburban life.
My Father and The Man in Black (Dir. Jonathan Holiff) – “Before there was Johnny and June, there was Johnny and Saul.” After his father Saul committed suicide, director Jonathan Holiff discovered Saul’s storage locker, along with an audio diary. The result is a personal and painfully honest documentary in which the relationship between Johnny Cash and manager Saul Holiff is shown to have flourished and deteriorated. As we hear Saul’s audio entries, real-life moments are stylishly and accurately recreated. A previously unseen side of Cash’s life is revealed here; a side omitted from Walk The Line for obvious, unflattering reasons. As much a tale of a son’s discovery as it is about the Man in Black, but nonetheless a must-see for any Cash fan.
The winners of the 2012 Raindance Festival Awards were announced during a special event on Saturday 6th October at 6pm, and are as follows:
Best International Feature – Laurentie
Best UK Feature – Love Tomorrow
Best Debut Feature – Indebted
Best Documentary – Ballroom Dancer
Best International Short – Buzkashi Boys
Best UK Short – The Pub
Short Film of the Festival – Buzkashi Boys
Feature Film of the Festival – How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song?
Elliot Grove had this to say on the success of this year’s festival: “I have allowed myself the satisfaction of seeing the festival I started 20 years ago finally achieving the industry and public recognition that the films and filmmakers represented truly deserve. Our festival programmers were spoiled for choice and the 105 features and 138 shorts they chose represent a diverse range of independent filmmaking, which deserve to be seen.”
I live 20 miles outside Central London, but the train still takes an hour. That’s half the time it takes to travel nearly 200 miles from York. For that extra hour each way, I strongly encourage you to hop on a train the next time Raindance rolls around. Nowhere else in Britain, at no other time of year, will you be presented with such an incredible range of obscure, unique stories on the big screen.
Visit www.raindance.org for more information on the festival and courses.