In 1997, Elliot Grove, the Founder of the Raindance, and his programming team, honoured me by showing my first short film Finders, Keepers… at their 5th Film Festival in London. It was a great night and the crowd of movie enthusiasts was very supportive and enthusiastic, but I am ashamed to say that I have not attended the film festival since… until now. It’s strange, but in the early years of my filmmaking career I had the peculiar mindset of not wanting to go to festivals unless my film was in them. A flawed logic perhaps, or maybe just an unconscious motivational tool to get my next movie made?
Well, in retrospect, I think that mindset, however I had justified it to myself, was wrong. I have since learned that you can get a lot more from attending film festivals, especially ones like Raindance that actively support the independent filmmaking community, than just the catharsis and glory of having your film screened. The entire event serves as a huge motivational boost to anyone making their own films or writing their own screenplays on many levels. Firstly, you are surrounded by your peers who are just as enthusiastic as you and sometimes even more, serving to bolster your confidence and even push you to taking the next bold step in your obstacle-strewn filmmaking journey.
Secondly, you get to see a bunch of cool films from around the world and meet the filmmakers behind the disparate visions. More often than not you get to watch personal stories you would never otherwise hear about and see movies that explore themes you would perhaps typically avoid in favour of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. For me, Raindance this year was a real eye-opener into the big wide world of filmmaking. I marveled at the strong performances, the beautiful cinematography and the subtext of the written word visualized on-screen. It reignited my passion for film as I begin the process of setting up my own debut feature as director.
So, what is Raindance? Well, if you haven’t yet seen the trailer you should check it out because it sums it up. In their own words “Raindance Means Raindance.” Raindance will continue to support indie filmmakers and challenge the mainstream film business through hell or high water, regardless of Brexit, Trump or if the sky falls down!
In its 27th year the Raindance Film Festival is a slick machine that offers filmgoers a broad mixture of narrative features, short films, documentaries, animations, immersive content, web series, networking events (with free cider!) and engaging and insightful industry panels.
The Opening Night Gala took place at Vue Leicester Square with Gina Hole Lazarowich's powerful debut documentary feature Krow’s TRANSformation telling the story of Krow, a young trans man and model’s journey of transition. Gina shot it over three years and had to raise the money with her exec producer husband themselves because all of their numerous funding applications were turned down. There were some memorable moments like the two photo shoots taken by the same photographer before and after Krow’s transition, and a compelling moment when it takes Krow three hours to summon up the courage to give himself a testosterone injection.
I came out of the screening feeling overwhelmingly uplifted but also a little sad to think that someone like Krow must go through this huge psychological and physical turmoil just to be “who they are.” Something the rest of us take for granted. In truth, Krow’s “transformation” – or in screenwriting terms his transformational character arc – was not really about him but about dealing with how the world perceived him, because in his heart and head he had already made the transition the day he decided to and was now just waiting for his body and the rest of the world to catch up.
One of the stand-out movies for me was a wonderful French film called Luna directed by Elsa Diringer, starring Laetitia Clément and Rod Paradot – nominated for best screenplay. Set in a small, sleepy rural community in the South of France, the film tells the story of Luna, a vivacious young girl who during one evening of party drinking with her friends is present during the assault of a young man called Alex. A few weeks later, Alex re-appears in Luna's life on the fruit and vegetable picking farm she works on, and although he does not seem to recognize her, she and her boyfriend, who was primarily responsible for the assault, is scared Alex is playing a game and seeking revenge.
As Luna spends more time with Alex she starts to fall for him but is forced to make difficult choices between Alex and her friends and keeping her secret. The film is beautifully shot with masterful, understated direction from Diringer and an engaging performance by Clément. I particularly enjoyed the “swing” brass band scene under the bridge when Luna spies on Alex and discovers he plays the trumpet – this impromptu music along with Paradot’s innocence providing some light in the dark subject matter.
Other noteworthy features were Aurora and A Certain Kind of Silence. Aurora is a quirky romantic yet melancholy comedy-drama set in Lapland about the film’s namesake, a Finish commitment-phobic party animal who meets Darian, a desperate Iranian refugee and his young daughter running from death in his home country and accepts the challenge of finding him a wife in exchange for a large sum of money. Inevitably they fall in love but the journey is filled with obstacles and is a delight to watch, especially the colorful supporting characters and the unexpected burgeoning bromance between Darian and the initially uptight husband of the woman he and his daughter are staying with.
A Certain Kind of Silence follows the story of Mia, a young Czech au pair sent by her agency to live with a well-off family in a lavish villa in Germany. Mia must look after their ten-year-old son Sebastian and follow a list of strange rules laid down by his parents. She initially questions their strict regime and tries to rebel but slowly abandons her morality and performs corporal punishment on Sebastian to “make him better” as a result of systematic manipulation. The story is inspired by and loosely based on the events that transpired in 2013 when the German authorities raided two radical communities that followed the Christian sect “Twelve Tribes” living under plain sight.
There were some great shorts at Raindance this year, most notably, Find Harbor For The Day, Favourites, Dog-Eat-Dog, November 1st and A Million Eyes by British director Richard Raymond who I will be interviewing about the film and his career in an upcoming article.
With 90 feature films, 113 short films, 19 music videos, 18 web series and 29 virtual reality experiences, there was a wealth of content and stories for everyone. The awards ceremony took place at Planet Hollywood with “Film of the Festival” going to Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah’s The Planters, Best Director going to Steve Krikris’ The Waiter, Best Screenplay going to screenwriter Miha Mazzini’s Erased and “Spirit of the Festival” going to Josephine Mackerras’ Alice.
As a filmmaker, aside from watching some excellent films, I got a lot out of Raindance. I networked, met some great filmmakers, attended the insightful industry panels on a variety of topics such as navigating the festival circuit, handling music rights, crowd funding, casting, cinematography and more… but how about as a screenwriter? Are festivals worth attending, even if they do not have a screenplay contest or your script is not accepted? The answer is yes. Absolutely. 100%. Don’t even think about it.
Writing, whatever creative form it takes, is typically a solitary pursuit and can sometimes isolate and even alienate you from the fast-moving world around you. Often, as writers, we’re happy to nestle down in our comfort zones with a coffee and bash out some words, living our lives through the characters we create and the dialogue they exchange. But don’t forget that while this is a necessary part of the creative writing process, so is living. And by that I mean actually getting out of your house or apartment and experiencing the world – meeting REAL people with REAL lives and REAL flaws.
When you’re buried in another grueling rewrite, it’s easy to forget that script writing is just part of the process of making a film. An important part, for sure, but nonetheless a cog in a very complicated machine that magically attempts to mix two polarized elements – creativity and commerce – to produce a new element… a motion picture.
It may sound obvious but even though you, the screenwriter, may feel that you understand this, it’s not really until you speak to people actually making films, or involve yourself in a production that you truly “get” the collaborative process. Seeing what it takes for a crew to shoot a scene you write is illuminating. Understanding how a director, cinematographer, actor, production designer interprets your words will ultimately improve your writing because from then on, at the conception stage, you will be taking all of these production facets into consideration… even if it is unconsciously.
A film festival is a great way of taking writers out of their familiar comfort zone and in a way, transplanting them into a not so dissimilar comfort zone within the filmmaking arena. Trust me, there’s no need to be scared. You’re in a safe place. There are many people here like you and everyone wants to be friends. Film festivals can open your eyes to international stories of the human condition through narrative fiction and documentary and believe it or not, you can even speak to three-dimensional people who are on their own filmmaking pilgrimage and learn from their experiences.
Film festivals like Raindance are there to educate and inspire and as a screenwriter sometimes we need a little inspiration and even a polite nudge to break us free from our own writing doctrines and consider a different approach to telling our stories. Watching a range of diverse films is not only entertaining on a visceral and visual level but can also be a soul-cleansing, cathartic, even meditative process without you realizing it. That’s the beauty and power of film. So, what are you waiting for? Google “film festivals” near you right now and begin your own hero’s journey. Carpe Diem!