It’s every filmmaker’s dream that their work gets noticed. But getting into a film festival is difficult – and to qualify for Raindance you certainly have to tick all the right boxes to impress the ever knowledgeable and experienced festival founder, Elliot Grove.
This year’s marks the 24th year the festival has been running and having received over 8,000 applications, it seems independent cinema is well and truly alive. Being classed as one of the top 50 must attend film festivals by Variety, this festival is about a lot more than just watching films – it’s a 12 day film course in itself. Over at HeyUGuys we were lucky enough to chat to Mr. Grove himself, who gives us an insight into what it’s like fighting for independent film.
What ignited your interest and passion in cinema and of course independent cinema at that?
Well, I grew up Amish – I was always told never, ever to go the movie theatre because the devil lives there! One day when I was 16 in Harvest season, a part broke down on the farm and it was going to take 3 whole hours to get it repaired; there was no point going back home and coming back, and maybe like you when you were 16 I was wondering what the devil looked like. And lo and behold there was the house of the devil just up from the house of the lord. They were charging 99 cents in those days to see what the devil looked like, so I paid my money and I went it. It was a big room, like church, I sit down and then they turn the frigging lights off, curtains opened and the first face of the devil I saw was Lassie Come Home and I cried like a baby. At the end I rushed up to the screen to see if I could feel any of the images.
Then I went to art school in Toronto, I have had no film training. I’m a sculpture technician – wax figures is my specialty and then in the 70’s I came back to London worked for the BBC for a while, worked on the last year of Monty Python and then went back home and worked as a scenic artist, making 69 features and hundreds of shorts and commercials – then in the 80’s I decided to work in property in the last big recession in 1991, I went bust, lost everything and then I decided to go back into film; but I’d lost everything – all my contacts, so I started bring people over from American to teach and that was a breath of fresh air.
People like Edgar Wright who was my first intern and Chris Nolan were taking these classes and they started making films. In 1992 when I started, there were only six British features made that year and I found out this nation used to make over a 100 features a year – so I thought I will start a film festival for these new films that were being made. At the time there were only 2 film festivals in the country – Edinburgh and London, but when you entered a British film in they didn’t know what to do with it, they put it in with the world cinema. So I really started the festival to honour British film. And I find out something horrible about you British, it’s that you’re snobs.
The age old problem we have is the films we have are brand new, the filmmakers always come and are excited but because there isn’t a big name backing them, that logo isn’t on the screen people will turn their noses at it. And the main problem with that is figuring out how to market these films to London. And the films that we screen are nothing like Hollywood they are the films that Hollywood and the industry have turned down, they are too extreme, even though they are extremely entertaining and deserve to be seen. These people make it on their own, but they don’t have all the marketing and clout that the big guys have, so they find their own place in festival after festival hoping to build an audience and many of them don’t so they sink without a trace which is one of the sad parts in what I do.
Do you think it’s just because they don’t have the backing of a big name, or studio that people shy away from it so quickly?
‘It’s interesting, I’ve been doing this for over a quarter of a century now and it seems the public are forever being dumbed down. Our political and business leaders don’t want people to ask awkward questions and you see this with Trump and Clinton – they like us really dumb. They like us going through the middle ground and anything that breaks this, causes ripples – they don’t like. We have had screenings in the past, we have had police, censorship problems and all of this kind of stuff because we are breaking the mould. At Christmas, when Sony got hacked due to The Interview – the Korean government got it down and, by the way if they can take down our cinemas, they can take down our ATM machines as well. It’s an interesting and dangerous time we live in.
In fact a date that many people forget, is February 15th 2005, You Tube dot com launched. And with that it changes the whole distribution platform. Filmmakers are a generation behind their musical colleagues and they learned to cope with things such as Napster and now people hope to get noticed and that’s tough – filmmakers can learn from them and see how they dealt with piracy and the collapse of the traditional distribution channels. You can get anything online – one my films, the day after it got released there were 300 copies online, it had something like 60,000-100,000 views or something, I haven’t checked – it’s too depressing.
Having over 8,000 applicants this year, do you have some sort of checklist when it comes to selecting films for the festival? What really grabs your attention when watching a project?
The first thing overall, is story. We see lots and lots of submissions; beautifully shot, well lit, well-acted, beautifully edited with no story – so we say no. And many of those films come from the government funded agencies in Europe. So the story ones get filtered out and they go into a pile, the programmers look at how they see the festival and how many films about plastic in the ocean can you have. We have one this year called The Plastic Ocean and it’s a brilliant documentary about how we are ruining our Ocean’s so that covers that.
So they piece it together, like a giant jigsaw as the main aim of Raindance is to present a broad over-brush of the best of independent cinema from all over the world. And these submissions came in from over 100 countries and this year we are showing films from 59 different countries which is a lot. And this like a film school in 12 days really, so the filmmakers come, they ask us questions, we ask them how did you do that or how did you mess up…but that’s how they piece it together. Story first, I don’t care if you short it on your cell phone, I don’t care.
What would you say is your favourite film or a film that really made you think, wow I was to be a part of this industry?
A film that I saw after Lassie Comes Home, erm, I hate to say it was really was Lassie Come Home. I had no idea what a movie was, I had no idea. It was like me saying to – whatever and you didn’t no. And I went in and I had this experience that was mind-boggling, maybe like the first time you see the Oculus Rift – it’s unbelievable, that experience. The fact that you could tell stories, moving pictures, completely blew me away and it informed me that since that time I have entered up doing a film festival and I love that.
There was another film that I saw in the early 80’s when I was still living in Toronto and I went to the festival one night, I didn’t know what I was seeing and I saw a film French film called Diva and I went back the next night and I saw Jim Jarmush, and he was there! It was called Stranger Than Paradise, which was actually shot on film ends given to him by Vic Vendors and he knew how many seconds each take would be and he put the film in the camera and he started to shoot, and when it made a noise the actors would know the scene is over. What did was kept the image and the sound and he decided to cut black tape in between and when you guys saw it, the American’s were like ‘oh wow it’s got this European auteur feel’. So Diva, a french thriller, followed by Stranger Than Paradise – two very different films, one colour, one black and white, one with no money, one with lots of money.
You have made many films yourself, shorts, features, written them, produced them mentored many people too – do you have any top tips for budding filmmakers out there, especially ones who don’t have a Hollywood budget?
Shoot on your cell phone, get some mates and remember if you want to me a filmmaker you need to make films, you want to be a director you need to direct films, if you want to be a screenwriter you got to write stuff that your mates can shoot. Even if it’s at the bus stop and as a director you want to know the grammar of directing. Chris Nolan you see didn’t go to film school, he taught himself.
His first film The Following, he used by offices as a base for that, he was working at Boots in Piccadilly at the time, and he used to go by the film society and pick up free 16mm camera at UCL, come to my office, I’d give him the key on Friday night, he would shoot Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday he would give me the key and go back to Boots. At the time he had no lights, so another thing he learnt was that with dialogue you need to see the lips and he shot all those interior scenes in front of windows – watch any Chris Nolan film and 9 times out of 10 when people are speaking they are standing in front on windows – not because he doesn’t have the money for lights, but because that’s how he learned.
Looking at this year’s selection of films, is there anyone we should be looking out for at the festival? The shorts look really interesting…
An American Indie called After Adderall which is a brilliant Indie. The American Indies went down after 911 and it took about 7 or 8 years for them to come back, so that’s good. I would really encourage your group to look at the virtual reality which is mind-boggling. We have some great looking shorts this year – shorts are where you can test stuff (shit) out. The time and money with a short is less than a feature and you can try really wacky stuff if you want and if you screw up you can just hit delete and start again. And of course the documentaries, the films we screen at Raindance tell stories but they are using a different scripting technique, feature and short docs.
I mean what’s so cool about most of our films here, If I can be poetic for a minute here, we live in a very troubled times, there’s so much hatred which I believe is caused by basic misunderstanding of how people live and work in different cultures and religions and cinema is such a powerful media and by watching the right movie you can see how people function in other societies and hopefully it will bring the temperature down. We are moving into this area of isolation with Brexit and Trump and all that and just…it’s terrifying. I’m old enough to remember Nixon and all the Vietnam trouble, very left wing, then very right wing and now it’s going back to left wing. I hope we are still keeping cinema alive.
Ken Loach will be receiving the Raindance Auteur Award and also participating in an “In Conversation With” on Sept 27 at Vue Piccadilly – and you can catch the wonders of Raindance from 21st September – 2nd Oct 2016 at various theatres in London.