Raindance Film Festival

September 25th-October 6th, 2013

Vue Piccadilly

by Joanna Orland & Alice Sanders

The Raindance Film Festival is London’s answer to Utah’s Sundance.  Although Sundance has brought its blend of indie cinema to the UK in the form of Sundance London, Raindance takes more of a purist approach to indie filmmaking.  With over 100 feature films and over 150 shorts, the annual festival screens a range of talent from the fully self-funded to the people who have benefitted from the Raindance training programmes.  Raindance is dedicated to nurturing and promoting independent cinema in the UK and internationally.

With all of the film screenings, workshops, lectures and networking events on offer at this year’s Raindance, we could only sample a mere few.  Here is some of what we experienced at the 21st annual Raindance Film Festival:

2 Jacks
Directed by Bernard Rose
Starring Danny Huston, Jack Huston, Sienna Miller and Billy Zane

Director Bernard Rose has been inspired by the stories of Russian authoer Leo Tolstoy, and has made three of his previous films based on them.  With 2 Jacks, Rose makes his fourth, based on the Tolstoy short story The Two Hussars.

Danny Huston has become somewhat of a muse for Rose, and in 2 Jacks he stars as Jack Hussar, a charming flamboyant and nostalgic Hollywood director.  He drinks hard, plays hard, and works hard.  His film career is full of ups and downs, and when we meet him, he is trying to raise funds for his next project.  He meets wannabe producer Brad and Brad’s sister Diana (Sienna Miller) whom he falls in love with.

In the Q&A, Rose stated that the period of nostalgia is twenty years.  When we look at the past of twenty years ago, we see things in black and white, as in good and bad rather than with nuances.  We remember ourselves as younger, and things as better.  Twenty is the magic number.  This is why the second half of this film takes place twenty years after the first half, with Jack Huston, Danny’s real-life nephew, in the role of Jack Hussar Jr..

The main theme of this film is nostalgia, explored not only through the narrative but through the film’s visuals as well using colour saturation.  The handheld approach to this film was apparently not a stylistic choice by Rose, but was born out of time and budgetary constraints.  This gives the film a more intimate feel, allowing the Hustons to play with nuances in their performances.

This film is a gem of indie cinema, and a passion project for those involved.  Perhaps in twenty years we will look back at 2 Jacks with fond nostalgia.


Directed by Alex Winter

Alex Winter (yes, that Alex Winter) has written and directed a documentary about a turning point in the music industry – the rise and fall of Napster.  In case there is someone out there to young to remember, Napster was the original peer-to-peer file sharing program that began the online MP3 music downloading phenomenon and changed the face, and sales figures, of the music industry forever.  It began operating in 1999, but was forced to legally shut down by court ruling in 2001.  Albeit short lived, Napster revolutionized the Internet.  Without it, perhaps there would be no iTunes, no Facebook, no Arctic Monkeys who found their fame initially via MySpace.  Who knows what our lives would be like without Napster.

Downloaded follows the rise of Napster to its fall.  It features interviews with co-founders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, former collaborators, musicians, music industry representatives, and uses a lot of archive footage to tell the entire story.  While not overly revealing or informative, the film brings back the nostalgia in us older people who remember the dawn of file sharing.  The interesting aspect of this documentary is the way Winter attempts to humanize Napster by giving us background on Fanning and Parker, trying to depict how the successes and failures affected them as people.  There is one particularly good scene when Fanning and his colleague are discussing how the payouts of the Napster fallout probably came close to a sum of $500 million, and you could see on Fanning’s face the shock and horror of what he had created and then lost.

While the film feels like a quick overview of the whole story, there are some very poignant moments such as the one above.  Napster is further humanized in interview clips of Fanning describing the software as a way to “share emotion over the Internet”, by which he means music and its affects.  He says it’s “a way to meet people through music”.  Chuck D who seems very pro Napster states that “For the first time, the audience got to the technology first, before the industry.”  He describes Napster as “the new radio”.

Regarding its fall, the music industry’s approach seemed to be “we do not negotiate with terrorists”.  Napster had about 60 million users that the industry could have utilized, but because they couldn’t agree with Napster, they just “burned it down”.  Post-Napster, Fanning was looking to work with the music labels on his new pro copyright endeavour SnoCap, but iTunes swooped in and took over the digital music market, leaving Fanning to eventually move on to the Games industry side of software.  Sean Parker eventually invested in Facebook and Spotify.

The movie closes on Fanning stating the main point made in this documentary, “Even if Napster shut down, the idea was out there.  It was worth it.”  Was this film worth it?  It was an interesting watch as someone who remembers all of the events and can re-watch this piece of history with full knowledge of what the future holds.  For the non-Napster generation, I can’t imagine it would be appreciated at all and they can go on thinking that Mark Zuckerberg invented the Internet.

Read our interview with director Alex Winter.

Directed by Alan Brennan
Starring Rafe Spall, Jenn Murray, David Morrissey

Earthbound had its UK premiere at Raindance Film Festival the day before it debuted on UK’s SKY Tv.  This film is so charming, it’s hard not to fall in love with it and its loveable protagonist Joel (Rafe Spall) who believes he is an alien from the planet Zalaxon.  In this comedy/sci fi/rom com, David Morrissey plays Joel’s father whom on his death bed reveals his true alien identity to his son.  Joel grows up believing his alien background to be truth and even communicates with his late father via holographic video.  All is well in Joel’s world until he falls in love with Maria (Jenn Murray) and he must make the decision of his life – should he come out as the alien he belives himself to be, or should he remain hidden amongst the humans?

This film is Irish through and through, as is its charm.  But the English lead of Rafe Spall makes this film as endearing, funny and empathetic as it is.  His performance is so engrossing and lovely, you can’t help but root for Joel no matter how crazy or alien you think him to be.  While he’s appeared in various high profile films and programmes, this is Rafe’s shining moment, and a highlight of this year’s Raindance Film Festival.

Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me

Directed by Raul Fuentes

This film is essentially the study of a lesbian relationship. There is Maria, who is finishing high school, into everything, and full of naivety with a hint of pretension “Cool, I dig books”. Then there is Alejandra, who works in publishing and is in her thirties. She has a penchant for the younger women that she can exercise some control over. Alejandra is in a self made prison of loneliness, isolated by her own judgemental nature and inappropriate choices. She is not a completely unlikeable character, though, she likes things done right, and ultimately desperately wants to be loved.

It is well shot, and the two leading ladies are both beautiful and charismatic actors, so it’s a pleasant experience for that reason. It’s shot in black and white, and I would have liked to have asked the director why, because although it does look lovely, it’s a modern story and black and white was not an obvious choice for the film. The plot is not linear, and I would have liked to have ask the director about this too. It starts midway through the relationship then jumps back to the beginning, but again, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious choice for doing this. Why not just start at the beginning? Is that too pedestrian these days, to tell a story beginning, middle to end?

The film runs a little long, with some scenes simply telling us the same thing as previous scenes, but overall it was a believable portrayal of a relationship. The falling in love, the intensity and passion, and then the differences and the flaws that eventually come to the surface. However, there is one thing that bothered me throughout – Alejandra’s nails were too long. A lesbian would never have intentionally long, manicured nails. Think about it.

Everyone’s Going To Die

Directed by Jones

Another British choice, I was attracted to this one by its extremely depressing title – I love a film about loneliness. And I loved this film. The story is about two people who meet by chance in a café because the woman, twenty-something Melanie, is 20p short for a bacon buttie and a coffee, and the man, Ray, who’s significantly older, lends her it because the grumpy café owner makes a fuss.She sits next to him and tries to start a conversation, he is largely uninterested. They meet again in an arcade and she perseveres and there they start to form a bond.

The film is set over the course of only one day and it becomes clear that these two lonely people have a connection. German Melanie has a fiancée who is notably absent, and Ray is in a failing marriage. Melanie and Ray’s connection is never explicitly romantic, but it has a romantic feel to it. I like the fact that this film explores a bond between the two protagonists which is not clearly defined. I think many of us negotiate different types of relationships that are not clearly defined, that perhaps feel more intense or romantic than friendship but are not physical, and it was lovely to watch this played out on screen.

The film is not really a plot driven film, but more of a ‘mood piece’. It’s set in Folkestone, which is a seaside town, but a bit of a scruffy, downbeat one. It opens with a shot of the vast grey ocean. There are beautiful shots of a once grand but now shabby hotel, the harbour at night, a grubby café, and of course, the beach. It is ramshackle, run-down beauty that perfectly compliments the bittersweet feel of the film, as does the soundtrack. For added bonus, there are funny moments too, including a play written by a teenager, from which the title of the piece is taken. There are some great performances by the cast, and particularly the two leads. If you like your heartstrings twanged, give it a go.


Directed by Mikihiro Endo

The central concept to this film is a brilliant one: an out of work actor ends up involved in an organisation that provides an unusual service. What happens is, they arrange for an actor to play the role of anyone a client might want to interact with. You can spend an hour or two shouting at your mean boss, or you can have a drink with your dead son. You have to fill in forms about the persons character and send in photos so that the actor can get it as right as possible. There are so many possibilities that extend from this concept, but the one that plays out is not that satisfying.

The main character in the film Shimada, a man in his thirties who won’t give up on his dream of acting.  He plays it very well as an understated, slightly blank character led into this strange world by an actor friend of his. Clearly this is a film about loneliness and isolation, as well as fantasy. It’s interesting how most of the characters in the film desperately cling on to their fantasies both in and out of the context of the organisation Shimada works for. Shimada is the only character that ever tries to break the fantasy, but he is a passive man, and when the other characters around him seem so determined to cling onto non-truths, he lets them.

Shimada also has in own fantasy to bear, in a lie that he has told his mother. The first half of the film is a dark comedy as we get introduced to the various nutty characters playing out disturbing but funny scenes with the actors. The second half of the film focuses on Shimada’s relationship with one of his clients, a high school girl planning a terrorist operation. The problem is, we never get to see any real relationship between them as the girl point blank refuses to break character. Also, we find out very little background about her or why she does any of the things she does. Pleasing as it is to watch Shimada, for some intangible reason, being swept along with this particular story, I felt it was on a rather superficial level. After all the promise of such an intriguing concept I was hoping for more.

Gangster of Love

Directed by Nebojsa Slijepcevic

Gangster of Love is a documentary about Nedeljko Babic, who is a professional matchmaker or a ‘gangster of love’. His pet project is setting up a Romanian woman called Maya, who is in her early thirties. Maya is a sweet and attractive woman who has a young son. Every time she dates a man and he realises she has a son, he instantly loses interest. They realise pretty quickly too, because she takes her son on the dates. Nedeljko accompanies her too, which is a pretty weird set up.

Nedeljko is organising the date, but I don’t really understand why he has to go on them. And if he does, why does he stay for more than the first couple of minutes? He obviously feels paternal towards Maya, and is often more disappointed with the men than Maya herself. The men complain of terrible loneliness, but the minute that they see a kid is in the equation, they’re not interested at all. Nedeljko berates one of the men on over the phone: “If I loved the mom, I would love the kid. I would love four of her kids”.  Another man rejects Maya because she isn’t Croatian, Nedeljko says to him “love knows no boundaries”.

The views of most of the men are depressingly misogynist; they want a woman to cook and clean for them, and to be attractive. But what is most astonishing about this film is how determined some of the lonely people are to remain alone. They have such a fixed idea in their head of who they are looking for, they refuse to consider the person in front of them. One man requests a woman from a poor background so he can make her feel like an empress, and there is something decidedly creepy in that request. The most interesting bit of the film is the burgeoning relationship with Marin, who complains initially that women won’t look at him because he’s unemployed, and yet he still begins to find fault with Maya “she’s been with lots of men and she drinks too much”.

The documentary has plenty of great material and is full of interesting characters. Certain themes are clear – the absurdity of the men’s outdated attitudes provide humour and the unlucky fate of Maya. However, it relies too heavily on the personalities and quirks of those in it, instead of shaping a story, exploring more themes, or carving its own unique perspective. Also, its soundtrack is music that sounds like it’s from a light-hearted Woody Allen comedy and is played at sometimes very sad or downbeat moments, which is disconcerting.

Greatful Dead

Directed by Eiji Uchida

This is a film about loneliness, psychopaths, and Japanese Catholics. Frankly, if you’re not sold on that I don’t think you and I can be friends.

It opens with a brief look at a girl’s lonely childhood. She is abandoned by her mother, her father has a breakdown and her older sister leaves to live with a boyfriend. The girl, Nami, watches TV and buys endless rice cookers from the shopping channel. Jump to Nami aged twenty, now a wealthy young woman, her favourite hobby is watching ‘Solitarians’ or people that are so lonely they’ve gone mad in their own loneliness. One such Solitarian is a curmudgeonly old man she particularly likes to watch, and sets up camp (literally) on a roof opposite his house. From here the plot goes from kooky to batshit mental.

A young evangelical catholic woman starts to help the old man, and Nami gets jealous. There is something decidedly odd in the way Nami watches people. I am a naturally nosey person, and I can understand the draw of spying on someone. But Nami watches like she is watching a silly game show or the shopping channels she was obsessed with as a kid. She is also filled with glee at signs of their pain or conflict with others. There seems to be a total lack of empathy on her part. It’s not about relating her loneliness to theirs, though she is clearly a Solitarian herself, but it’s about pure schadenfreude.

It’s a story about loneliness, and how it affects different people. Nami’s sister is obsessed with being normal, but the fact that she is obsessed with it, says that she doesn’t really feel it, and that it’s just anther way of coping. All of the Solitarians deal with their loneliness in different harmful ways. Nami, the loneliest of them all, is so detached from reality that she has lost sight of right and wrong. She just has one obsession, and that is getting somebody’s complete and full attention in any way she can. Although this film is bizarre, I found it utterly gripping, moving, and strangely relatable. It’s a portrait of extreme, exaggerated urban loneliness.

How To Make Money Selling Drugs
Directed by Matthew Cooke
Produced by Adrien Grenier

This super slick documentary was the opening gala of this year’s Raindance Film Festival.  It certainly deserves the honour with its glossy presentation style, hilarious interviews, and enlightening information about the billion dollar drug industry.  Presented to the audience as an educational video on how to make money selling drugs in ten easy steps, the documentary is never preachy or dull in spite of its clear left-leaning views.

While the style and soundtrack are key in making this film as polished as it is, it is the interview subjects that make it interesting.  Matthew Cooke not only skims the surface by talking to celebrities including Susan Sarandon, Eminem, 50 Cent, and Woody Harrelson who all have strong views on drug laws, but he also gains access to some serious players at each level of the drug trade, from narc, to street hustler, to kingpin.  It’s amazing that he got these people to agree to tell their stories on camera, but also the details of their stories are shocking.  This film is a must watch for anyone with liberal views on the matter, who fancy some further insight into the trade, and also a bit of a laugh as the characters in this film are quality.

Jake Squared
Directed by Howard Goldberg
Starring Elias Koteas, Virginia Madsen, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jane Seymour

A man named Jake, who is a fifty-year-old film-maker, decides to make a film about his own life as part of a project to explore himself and the main romantic relationships in his life. I guess you could say it’s something of a midlife crisis. He hires an actor to play his twenty year old self, but different versions of himself keep cropping up, as do all the important women in his life and different versions of them. They all come to a party held at Jake’s very nice house, and though normal life seems to continue in a regular temporal structure, the party seems to exist outside of this, and is constantly going on.

The film is self-indulgent, and feels very much like the writer director has made a film about himself. It asks the viewer to care a lot about one man entangling himself in a big meta-wank over his own life. The character does attempt to address this problem by admitting that though there are bigger things to worry about in life like war or famine, we all care about our own lives and our own romantic destinies. This is true, but there has to be a good reason for me to care about his, and I didn’t.

There are also lots of quotations, sometimes used as chapter breaks, but then the characters get the ability to swipe them across the screen with their hands and have quotation battles. Its gimmicky, clever-cleverness detracts from any serious emotional content. Jake – the original fifty year old film-maker – has a few internal monologues as voiceovers whilst he is swimming in his pool, and they have an expository feel. This film generally tells us far too much, instead of showing us it with nuance.

Jake Squared is not without its funny or interesting moments, and I actually really liked the final conclusion he arrives at with regards to his romantic interests, but overall I found the various Jakes rather had their heads stuck up the other ones in an endless, self-analysing meta-film.

Directed by Brian McGuire
Starring Terry Wayne and Pollyanna McIntosh

Prevertere starts by equating love with having sex and examines the separation and linkage of the two.  Templeton is a modern man who is having sexual relationships with at least three women – Shelly, Irene and Joanne. The film changes in style and tone with each of Templeton’s women, the first being Shelly.

Shelly is an older woman, needy and raw.  She becomes too dependent on Templeton, pushing him away rather than reeling him in.  He then moves on to Irene, the most grounded and likable of the three women.  Their relationship seems to be the most complex of the three as they have the most honest emotional connection out of Templeton’s trysts, yet for some reason they cannot bring themselves to be together.  Then there is Joanne.  Their relationship is complex, but this is the one he wants to make permanent.

The film’s title is Latin for pervert, and a mouthful to pronounce.  It implies that this film is vacuous and filthy, but it is anything but that.  Sex is barely even shown on screen as everything is implied.  It is not the lurid affair you may be expecting, but rather an honest exploration of modern relationships.

Read our interview with actress Pollyanna McIntosh.

Directed by Ryohei Watanabe

This is another Japanese film about loneliness, which seems to be a rather pertinent subject in Japanese culture right now. Two schoolgirls who have no other friends, form an intense bond with each other. On the surface they seem so different, Misa is teased for being ugly and odd, whereas Izumi is pretty and seemingly popular. But Izumi takes Misa under her wing when another classmate of theirs goes missing.

The first part of the film is a touching depiction of an intense young friendship. Even though it starts to become clear that Izumi is sexually experienced beyond her years, there is a pervading innocence to it all, even when they do things that appear contrary to that (e.g. a scene where they both take their knickers off and chase each other). But as things continue, a chilling and macabre sense kicks in, and it becomes obvious that all is not right with Izumi as she tests the loyalties of her best friend.

A big part of Misa’s weakness in this film is her isolation, and that she relies so much on Izumi for all of her human contact that she is reluctant to break that bond despite what she learns about her. This film has a touch of the Lynchian about it – the absurd and the gruesome being drawn into everyday life, with a hint that it might be something not of this world. There is a mirror trope in the film that is definitely reminiscent of seeing the face of Bob in the mirror from Twin Peaks. Overall I thought this was a powerful and disturbing film, and would like to see more from the writer and director.

Sugar Kisses

Directed by Carlos Cuarón

Superstar Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón is very well known internationally for his latest film Gravity starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, as well as his previous successes Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Y Tu Mamá También, the Mexican film which he co-wrote with his brother Carlos.  Carlos is now going it alone with his latest film Sugar Kisses (Besos de Azúcar).

The story follows 13-year old Nacho as he tries to find his place in life.  His family is dysfunctional, his social setting is corrupt, but he finds salvation as he falls in love with Mayra, the daughter of crime lord Diabla.  The film depicts a corrupt and violent Mexican community with less than empathetic characterizations.  While the audience is rooting for Nacho and Mayra, they are not the most endearing characters of cinema, and this story is a difficult watch in empathetic terms.  Sure, they have despicable familes, horrible lives, and the power of love should prevail, but it doesn’t really matter in the end.

Carlos was at hand for a Q&A session after the film’s Raindance screening.  It ended up being a heated debate about Mexico’s portrayal in cinema, “I cannot depict all realities. I can only depict my reality. I’m expressing myself ok!?”, he declared.

To him this story is greater than that of the corruption that is found in parts of Mexico.  “This film is a social portrait. Corruption is… I’m not going to say so Mexican… So human”, he stated.  And it is, but these particular characters in Sugar Kisses are very difficult to relate to for the broader audience.

Wayland’s Song
Directed by Richard Jobson
Starring Michael Nardone, Orla Brady and Rob James Collier

Ex-soldier Wayland returns home from Afghanistan to discover his adult daughter has gone missing.  He searches for her and in turn, his lost soul.

This film is as pretentious as that description I just described it with.  The brooding silent shots, the shades of red in the cinematography, the throbbing drones all combine to make this the most unwatchable film of the festival.  Somehow I made it through its entirety, with only three knee jerk reactions to reach for my earplugs.

Watching Downton Abbey actor Rob James-Collier (Thomas) as a coke-fuelled artist has me wondering what his career path would hold if he didn’t luck out with the ITV drama.  Does he still need the money and work?  I suppose the script reads better on paper than it does in its final format.  And perhaps even with a better soundtrack, it could have been more watchable and thought-provoking.  I can’t even continue writing this review without instinctively reaching for my earplugs.

Directed by Tony Hipwell, Miles Watts

I so wanted to like this film, so very much. It’s a dark British comedy with a good concept at its heart. It’s about  a regular couple with kids, they have regular jobs and a good relationship; he’d do anything for her. Then, one evening after seeing a scary movie, she commits an accidental murder. Her character is a mixture between skittish, clumsy and very, very unlucky. Her husband helps her cover it up, and from there things spiral out of control.

Dark comedy is my cup of tea, but the problem with this film is tone, which is all over the place. Some moments are played for comedy and some are played very seriously.  The moment I realised that tone was the issue, was three murders in when there is an extended death sequence with a lot of over-the-top gore. Lots of people were laughing, but I couldn’t quite manage it. This was because it didn’t fit with what came before it. You can’t have a ‘carry on death’ moment after serious drama. Also, the tone of each of the performances of the actors was different. The main characters were all acted well, but incongruously. It was like some had been told to camp it up and play it for laughs and others had been told to play it completely straight. It made me realise how clever a writer and director you have to be to get dark comedy right.

The League of Gentlemen is a prime example of where the line between bathos and pathos is elegantly played over and over again. It is walked like a tight rope there, here the tight rope was twanging the actors in one direction then the other. The most interesting idea that emerged was the idea that the things we do are never completely accidental. The way we act, even unintentionally are things that surface from deep within us. But this idea could have been explored more. Also, it was unbelievable. I don’t mind accepting something that is outside of reality if it works on its own terms. However, in this film, I kept having niggling doubts about the plausibility of what happened, and also the characters’ reactions to what happened. Despite wanting so much to like it, I couldn’t quite do it.

For more information on Raindance Film Festival, please visit their web site: www.raindance.org.

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