How does it feel to have got to 25 years? Is there a striking contrast to how you ran your first few festivals up until now?
Yes, there is a huge difference. The first few years were run on pure passion, with no experience or know-how to run a film festival. What has developed now is a sense of purpose. Passion and purpose makes a special kind of energetic cocktail: part pure emotion, part sassy, but always slick.
What has been a real stand out moment for you in the 25 years you have been running the festival?
For me the big standout has been innovation. Innovation and innovators has always been what Raindance is about. Whether it was the storytelling of Nicholas Winding Refn with his first three features we screened in the early 1990’s, the social media phenomenon that was Blair Witch Project in 2000 or Europe’s first Web Fest in 2014 we have always been lucky at attracting and nourishing innovators and have supported innovation. I know you are dying to ask what innovations Raindance is launching this year, aren’t you?
It’s the launch of the VRXZ Summit and Awards: ten different categories will see a winner with all the associated splash and fanfare. A world first.
What can we expect from this year’s selection? Any titles that have really stuck out in your mind?
I’m still getting to grips with the programme, and I’m staggered by everything I see. What I can say to you, and your following is this: No matter which afternoon or evening you choose to come to Raindance – there’s always 5 new films playing every two hours, and 20 per day. Pick whichever film tickles your fancy and I will make this bet it you: You make not like the movie – based simply on personal taste – but my bet is you’ll come out of the cinema and have to agree that it was a movie, and if you don’t – let me know and I will make a no-questions-asked 100% refund on the spot!
Independent cinema is so alive right now, just look at Moonlight winning the Oscar. Do you think that audiences simply want to be challenged more in today’s society instead of being told what to think by Hollywood?
Not only did an indie with a fraction of the marketing budget of a Hollywood blockbuster, but this summer’s cinema attendance dropped something like 35%. Tell me any business that wouldn’t cringe at the thought of a 35% slash in sales?
And why was that? And why did Moonlight win? I’d like to think it’s because ordinary people are starting to wake up to the saccharin-sweet nothingness of the big budget movies. I’d really like to think that audiences have the discernment to pick quality over main street movie house fare. But do they? Have we as a nation become insensitive to true passion? And true purpose? Ask me closing Night when I will know the final box office tally. Ask me how this little venture called Raindance – a venture deemed too contemporary to gain even a penny of government support – has dented public opinion. And to what tune I will sing to our bank manager to ensure Raindance rides yet again.
It seems so many filmmakers make their mark at Raindance. Have you had any major commercial success that have come to light?
One can peel off name after Raindance name like the Russo Brothers, Shane Meadows, Ben Wheatley and so on – but that isn’t really what Raindance is about. For every Wright or Nolan there are equally talented filmmakers who have yet to achieve the critical or commercial success of their more lauded contemporaries. It’s my constant hope that one of these filmmakers will be discovered.
You must feel immensely proud of Edgar Wright’s recent success with Baby Driver. Do you have any advice for your current interns of Raindance or people thinking about getting into the industry?
Edgar Wright and Christopher Nolan both have strong Raindance connections. And their two summer films saved the American box office from sinking even lower than minus 35%. Of course I’m proud of their work – but it’s a national pride, not a personal pride. Those two are the types of filmmakers who put this country’s films and filmmakers on the map. And we sure have room for more.
Starting out? You need passion. You have to delete the words ‘no’ and ‘can’t’ from your vocabulary. And you need to find your niche and tell your story. And tell it well.
I know that you are excited about the developing world of virtual reality and showcase it at the festival. How do you think this is going to aid the film industry or perhaps damage it? Will people simply not be satisfied by conventional cinema in years to come?
Look – VR and all of its iterations are here to stay. It’s the most important development in moving pictures since the advent of sound a hundred years ago. What remains to be answered is how audiences will consume this new medium. And remember that it’s an entirely new medium with an entirely new set of rules too. I suppose it could be compared to the advent of television in the 1960’s. That new medium didn’t replace cinema – in fact as we know today – television has spawned much new talent.
Let’s flash forward for a second – where do you think filmmaking will be in 25 years? And thus, your festival?
What a great question and it’s a tough one to answer! Certainly in the past 25 years I have seen the advent of digital, the near-death of celluloid and the monster of the online distribution platforms like Netflix and Mubi.
Perhaps in a quarter century we will have become the playthings of AI robots! But seriously, it appears to be moving into interactive visual environments with gaming-style story nodes. And that means each of us will be able to interact with so-called movie stars and be able to manipulate and even create our own movies.
Finally – what do you hope audiences and filmmakers will take away from your 25th festival line up?
We live in terribly troubled times. So much of the trouble in the world is caused by misunderstanding of how people in different cultures and religions live and work and play. This misunderstanding breeds fear. And fear breeds hate
What stronger and more dynamic medium is there than movies? Made the right way a movie can take you to another place and another world and show how people love and play and work in different cultures. These movies can dispel misunderstanding. Fear would evaporate. So done right, a movie can change people’s lives.
The films we screen this year at Raindance come from a wide ranges of topics, and styles with money different messages. But taken as a whole, our films will change people lives. And that’s why I started Raindance.
Watch out for the latest Indie films to emerge at this year’s Raindance festival which is taking place right now – until October the 1st.