Welcome to Raindance, the UK’s most exciting celebration of independent film, currently playing at The Rex Cinema and the Cineworld Trocadero in London.
Now celebrating its fifteenth year, the Raindance Film Festival perfectly embodies the capital’s independent spirit and love of film and music to deliver a stunning catalogue of films from all over the world.
But most refreshingly, it’s a catalogue that suits both the casual moviegoer and the hardcore film fan in equal measure. Not, as other festivals do, by programming both sorts of film, but rather by finding those breakout hits that’ll work for both audiences. In past years Pulp Fiction, The Blair Witch Project and Memento have all screened at the festival, and this year seems certain to continue the trend with new films from Lars von Trier and Gus van Sant mixing with films from first time filmmakers like Alex Holdridge, whose film In Search of a Midnight Kiss is probably the best American Indie in years, and Charles Henri Belleville, whose film The Inheritance proves that guerilla filmmaking needn’t be unpenetrable and abstract.
And for the first time we’re proud to be in on the action, supporting the festival as a media partner and serving on the festival’s jury, which this year includes Mick Jones of The Clash, Iggy Pop, directors Andrea Arnold and Penny Woolcock and critic Anthony Quinn.
The festival runs until next Sunday, 7th October, and so there’s plenty of time yet to get in on the action. Continue onto the next page to get stuck in to our recommendations from the festival; films we’ve seen, films we want to see and films we want to see again. You’ll find a full screening schedule and booking information on the Raindance website.
Between our jury duties, our time elsewhere at Raindance and our general festival going, these are the film’s we’ve seen that we’ve loved so far.
Allan Moyle’s Weirdsville imagines a scenario that defines the term, “bad day.” When Royce and Dexter find the latter’s dead girlfriend following an overdose, it’s a simple trip to a seedy basement to bury the evidence. Only a group of satan-worshipping ne’er-do-wells happen to be doing their own ill deeds at the same time. And when the girlfriend can’t stay dead it seems like nothing is going to go their way.
What follows is nothing short of riotous as the pair of hapless losers beg, steal and borrow their way to morning. Moyle, whose last big hit was 1995’s Empire Records serves up a devilishly intriguing black comedy that keeps you on tenterhooks ’til the end. Weirdsville may well be another cult classic in the making.
Wes Bentley and Scott Speedman are brilliant as Royce and Dexter, while support from some cultists, a dead girlfriend, a bunch of drug dealers and a midget security guard keep them on their toes throughout.
Timur Bekmambetov’s follow-up to his masterful Night Watch – a film which came out of left field from Russia and gave Hollywood a run for its money – is possibly even less accessible than its predecessor. Day Watch cuts straight into the universe, grabbing its audience by the lapels and forcing us to remind ourselves of the story so far.
It’s also decidedly more heartfelt than Night Watch; Khabensky’s Anton wrestling with a son who’s deserted him for the Day Watch and his responsibilities to his unit. The line Anton walks is blurrier than anything to come out of the big American studios, and it’s refreshing to see a little ambiguity.
Jeannette Catsoulis says it best in the New York Times. Day Watch “dazzles and confuses with equal determination.”
Director Charles Henri Belleville’s previous credits, which curiously include duties as the making-of documentarian on the set of WAZ, which is another Raindance film, give him away as a newcomer to the world of film, but if The Inheritance is anything to go by, we can fully expect a long and interesting career from him. Written in two months and shot over 11 days on a budget of just £5000, The Inheritance has clearly succeeded through the passion and persistence of its cast, writer and director.
The story of a pair of brothers and their quest to find their inheritance after the death of their father, it’s guerilla filmmaking at its most exciting, shot in glorious HD against some of the most beautiful scenery Scotland has to offer. And it’s as beautiful to journey with as it is to look at, its leads finding real emotion while dealing with real familial troubles we can all relate to. Indeed, it’s a wonder the brothers in the film aren’t related in real life.
This is independent filmmaking at its most exciting. A project that exemplifies what can be accomplished if wannabe filmmakers just take the plunge and go for it.
A film about Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s assassin, is bound to provoke controversy. So perhaps it’s just as well Lindsay Lohan and Jared Leto’s big-budget version of this tale is soaking all that up, because The Killing of John Lennon, the indie version, is a fine film despite its subject matter.
We follow Chapman as his mind begins to convince him that killing Lennon is the way to go and then all the way through to the act itself and his arrest and trial. At times the film becomes a little too abstract, and the story could do with losing a few minutes from the end, but this isn’t an exploitative shock-film. Rather it’s a meditation on what it takes to do something as heinous as this and an attempt to understand, without necessarily empathising with, Chapman.
As with all film festivals, it’s impossible to see everything. These are the films from the Raindance programme we’ve had our eyes on but haven’t been able to catch yet.
What it is about growing up in New Zealand that inspires this sort of off-the-wall gross-out comedy it’s hard to say, but it’s the genre that gave Peter Jackson his start and sails again this year with Black Sheep. In Hollywood the phrase gross-out comedy is almost certain to ensure the film you’re about to see will be ninety minutes of your life you’ll never get back, but the Kiwis seem to know how to do it properly.
Hence our excitement for this stuntman comedy, which, from its trailer, looks as outrageous as anything that’s hailed from not-Australia. About one young man’s quest to become the world’s greatest stuntman, in spite of his inability to do stunts that don’t end in limb loss, The Devil Dared Me To is pitched, rather brilliantly, as the nearly semi-true story of New Zealand’s most dangerous stuntman.
The buzz surrounding this one is strong to boot; could this be the sports-related comedy Taladega Nights so craved to be?
Whether or not Michael Madsen is tabloid-level important, this would-be documentary posits a scenario in which the prolific B-movie star gets his own back on gossip rags that are hounding him by sending a trio of filmmakers out to document the life of one of the paparazzi chasing him.
Its title may imply hints of John Malkovich, but this seems more in league with Spinal Tap than Spike Jonze, and that Madsen can play with him image like this – and invite along sister Virginia and actors Daryl Hannah, David Carradine and Harry Dean Stanton – makes us instantly attracted to it.
“I was the only kid in the audience who didn’t understand why Dorothy would ever want to go home to that awful black and white farm, when she could live with winged monkeys and magic shoes and gay lions…”
Welcome to the world of cult filmmaker John Waters. This Filthy World spends 90 minutes in his company, as he monologues on stage in New York City, and we’re fairly certain to expect to be entertained and offended in equal measure.
Every film festival throws up some films that demand to be watched again and again, and this year’s Raindance Film Festival has delivered more than most. These are very special treats and if you only see four films at this year’s festival, see these. If you can’t make it to London, find an opportunity to see them anyway.
In describing Once as the Irish busker musical, we’ve met looks of derision that, frankly could be collected together into a book all about looks of derision. One’d hope it’s not the Irish part that irks people. Still, we’ve instead taking to describing it thus: It’s the Irish busker musical that Stephen Spielberg said gave him enough inspiration to last the year.
High praise indeed, and we’re sure the film’s marketing department is wringing its hands with glee. But importantly, he’s on the money; this is not just an Irish busker musical but one of the most uplifting and invigorating films of the year. It’s not a musical in the sense that Dreamgirls is a musical. It’s not full of show-stopping tunes and crashing big-band numbers. Instead it’s a beautiful story which is furthered through exceptional Irish folk music from its leads Glen Hansard, of The Frames, and Markéta Irglová. The songs will stay with you, and if you only buy one soundtrack this year it’ll be this one.
It’s almost a shame it’s already been released in the US. Don’t get us wrong, we’re thrilled with the high-nineties Tomatometer, but we’d have loved to have been the first to say that Once is a film you’ll almost certainly want to see more times than its title suggests.
Gus van Sant is fascinated with adolescence, and his fascination has thrown out some deeply meditative films in the last few years. From his Cannes triumph Elephant, through Last Days and now Paranoid Park, van Sant’s stoic trilogy is a labour of love that seems to shun convention at every turn.
While Last Days, ostensibly a biopic of the final hours of Kurt Cobain, and Elephant, about high-school serial killers, have courted controversy, Paranoid Park plays things decidedly safer, adapting Blake Nelson’s novel about a skater boy who accidentally kills a security guard while venturing out-of-bounds on Portland’s rail network.
And because it’s safer it’s also probably his most accessible of the three – Elephant and Last Days did little until their powerful endings while Paranoid Park first introduces us to Alex (played by newcomer Gave Nevins) before exploring how the accident affects his life.
The film looks beautiful and is rather unconventionally shot in the square 4:3 aspect ratio, while 8mm cutaways punctuate the film gracefully. It’s a testament to van Sant’s ability that he can say so much by doing so little; you could collect the film’s dialogue on a postage stamp.
On paper WAZ (the A is actually a Delta symbol so it’s pronounced Was or W-Delta-Z depending on the mood you’re in) looks like every other torture porn movie cluttering cinemas at the moment. But to lump it in with Saw and Hostel would be to do it a disservice, because this debut feature from director Tom Shankland is much more inventive.
Detective Eddie Argo and his new partner, Helen Westcott, begin investigating a series of grisly murders with one thing in common; a mathematical equation has been carved into each of the victims. When they learn that the equation – the WAZ of the title is a part of it – is designed to test altruism, and that the victims are being offed in pairs, forced to kill each other to “save” themselves, the case turns even nastier, and as Westcott gets to know her new precinct she’s seeing things that don’t add up in the police department’s handling of previous cases.
Set in New York but filmed, predominantly, in Belfast, with a cast that includes a Swede, an Australian and a Brit, the accents are a touch on the unpredictable side, but stirring performances from Stellan Skarsgard, Melissa George, Ashley Walters and Selma Blair make you forget those troubles, and the film creates a visually arresting universe and ramping tension that keep you glued to the screen.
Out of every film festival there comes at least one movie any festival-goer is kicking themselves for missing. For us, in Edinburgh, it was In Search of a Midnight Kiss. When the reaction from critics is as positive as was the reaction for this rom-com set on the eve of the New Year, the feeling that you’re missing out on something special is intense.
Thank the Lord for Raindance, and another opportunity to catch what is probably the best American indie in years. The tale of a couple who meet a few hours before midnight after a hookup on Craigslist, In Search of a Midnight Kiss follows them almost in realtime as they get to know one another and discover things they like and things that they don’t. Photoshopped porn and a mad dash to save possessions when the ex threatens to break out the gasoline keep things light, but the comedy serves the drama rather than diminishing it, making this the perfect date movie; it’s funny and heartwarming.
Shot in black and white, the heart and humour are already drawing comparisons to Kevin Smith’s Clerks, and not unfairly so. But to sum it up like that, positively or not, would be to do its originality a disservice.