23rd Raindance Film Festival

Raindance 23

by Joanna Orland

The 2015 Raindance Film Festival took place September 23rd to October 4th in central London.  Screening over 100 feature films as well as more than 150 shorts, the festival was truly a success in its 23rd year of showcasing emerging filmmakers.  The festival’s ethos is to uncover the latest filmmaking talent, aiming to nurture, support and promote independent cinema from the UK and around the world.  Here we review a few of this year’s highlights:

An Open Secret
Directed by Amy Berg

(reviewed at 68th Cannes Film Festival)

Labeling An Open Secret as “the movie Hollywood doesn’t want you to see” is more than sensationalism, it is truth.  Having been rejected by various film festivals and struggling towards its imminent 20-cities release, the documentary by Oscar-nominated director Amy Berg is treading a fine line by taking on Hollywood with some large accusations and implications.

“What you see in the film is literally just the tip of the iceberg,” says executive producer Gabe Hoffman at an out-of-festival screening and Q&A in Cannes.  “For every victim that’s in the film, there are another five or ten with fact-checked, legitimate accounts, who didn’t want to be identified.”

An Open Secret openly discusses the problem of child sex abuse in Hollywood, from the director who took on a similar story of paedophilia within the Catholic church in Deliver Us From Evil.  Finding victims willing to come forward for this film could not have been easy, but those who were willing to take part have done so for the greater good.  Evan Henzi, now 21, is one of these victims featured in the film.  His story is compelling and his bravery inspiring.  For Evan, he was let down by the legal system, but feels the need to tell of what happened to him in order to encourage others to come forward, and also to help himself let go of these demons.  “I’m starting to understand exactly what happened to me, because if I keep it in my head, I’m so confused all the time. I blamed myself and felt guilty,” explains Evan.

The film’s purpose is not only to raise awareness of the issue, but to provoke industry change.  As it stands, registered sex offenders are still allowed to work in Hollywood.  For example, the film tells the story of Brian Peck, who previously worked for Nickolodeon.  Peck was convicted of lewd acts with a child, yet he his now working in Hollywood once again.  An actual convicted pedophile, out of prison and able to work with children.

Peck’s friendship with famed director Bryan Singer is also discussed in the film.  While no accusations are directly made against the director, implications suggest that Singer, along with David Geffen, have suspicious ties to certain people known for illicit behaviour.  Again, these are not accusations, but allusions to the effect that this is a wider Hollywood problem and not just a few confined incidents.

This documentary while exploring the perpetrators, also focuses strongly on the victims.  Evan H.’s account of the abuse by his manager Marty Weiss, also known for managing and abusing Corey Haim, is shocking to bear witness to, especially with the inarguable evidence Evan provides. Weiss groomed not only Evan and his young clients, but also their families, gaining parents’ trust and situating himself closely by everyone’s sides.

Weiss’s victims are only one element of An Open Secret.  The documentary also explores Marc Collins-Rector who is accused of a more organized and violent form of pedophilia, together with his business partners Chad Shackley and Brock Pierce of the entertainment network DEN.  These men would approach resistant boys with the threat of never working in Hollywood again if they didn’t sexually comply, and when that didn’t work, they would sometimes resort to violent threats, drugs and rape.

Berg also focuses her exposé on those who should be protecting Hollywood’s youth, including an interview with Michael Harrah, head of the Screen Actors Guild Young Performers Committee.  Initially presented as a spokesperson for Hollywood and the victims, it gradually becomes clear that even Harrah may not be what he seems and that this problem is even further widespread than imagined.

Shocking revelations make this documentary powerful, but it is also the abusers’ lack of liability that hits hard.  These men are not just in denial of their wrong-doing, but even once found guilty in the eyes of the law, they are able to continue as if no harm has been done.  The longterm effects of their actions are plainly visible through the interviews with their victims.

An Open Secret is an important exposé on Hollywood, with all profits being donated to help enforce stricter employment rules.  Whether Hollywood likes it or not, its victims’ voices will finally be heard.


Our interview with producer Matt Valentinas.

And It Was Good
Directed by Graham Chychele Waterston

Starring Louis Cancelmi, Jessica Joffe and Sam Waterston

And It Was Good is an absurdist story of two lovers who reunite, marry and immediately confront the reality of their lives together. While the performances are excellent and the humour delightful, the magnificence of this short film lies in its aesthetic. The cinematography, the framing, the editing, the music, the choreography all come together beautifully for this twenty minute film which greatly celebrates life.

With And It Was Good, Graham Chychele Waterston clearly establishes his distinct directorial style. A standout of the short film strand of this year’s Raindance Film Festival, what makes this film even more interesting than it already is, is the knowledge that Waterston enlisted the help of his family for the making of this film. Co-produced with Graham’s sister Katherine Waterston, the film stars Waterston’s brother-in-law Louis Cancelmi in the male lead, while the director’s famous father Sam has a brilliant role as the judge who marries the loved-up couple, reciting the best dialogue of the film, which includes the perfectly delivered words “blah blah”.

Life, death, birth, love are all explored in this dazzling film. While the themes are universal and the performances engaging, it is director Graham Chychele Waterston’s artistic vision that makes this film stunning, and the director himself one-to-watch.

George and the Vacuum
Directed by Chadd Harbold

Written by Charlyne Yi
Starring Fred Armisen and Sophia Takal

To tell an engaging story in five and a half minutes is no easy feat, but director Chadd Harbold has pulled it off with George and the Vacuum, a sweet and sentimental story of letting love go.

The film starts lightheartedly with George (Fred Armisen) walking Lucy (Sophia Takal) home after a date. The mood is light and flirtatious as Lucy returns the favour by walking George home in return. On the journey, the couple joke and tease as George tells Lucy of his recurring dream of how he keeps trying to vacuum up a never-ending pile of dirt.

As George and Lucy arrive at George’s place, George offers to return the favour and walk Lucy home, revealing the never-ending loop that they are stuck in. The grainy black and white cinematography reinforces the revelation that we are inside George’s mind as he goes around and around trying to move past his relationship with Lucy, who no longer loves him.

George realizes he is stuck in this loop, replaying the memory of Lucy over and over in his head. The Lucy of George’s subconscious tries to help him out of this loop, which he seems receptive to, but as he asks to walk her home just one more time, we’re left wondering if he ever will truly be able to break free.

While we can’t be sure that George will end this repeating cycle, George and the Vacuum the film certainly deserves a repeat viewing.


Our interview with director Chadd Harbold.

I Thought I Told You To Shut Up!!
Directed by Charlie Tyrell
Narrated by Jonathan Demme
Interviews with Matt Groening, Ed Asner, Dave Thomas and Kevin Pollak

In 1977, cartoonist David Boswell created comic book anti-hero Reid Fleming, the World’s Toughest Milkman. Nearly thirty years later, the Hollywood movie adaptation still remains in contractual limbo. Director Charlie Tyrell examines the origins of Reid Fleming, the timeline of the film that never was, and the enduring fan base that makes Reid Fleming worthy of his own documentary I Thought I Told You To Shut Up!!.

Listed as one of The Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s 100 Favorite Things, Reid Fleming has had a cult fan base since his debut. “I don’t know if Homer would’ve been bald if I hadn’t seen Reid Fleming,” says Groening of the World’s Toughest Milkman. It’s not only Groening who features in this film, but other fans including Kevin Pollak, Ed Asner, and Dave Thomas who wrote a draft of the script for the Reid Fleming movie that never was.

Imagine what could have been with Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson, Bob Hoskins, John Lovitz, Jim Belushi and Bill Murray all being envisioned for the title role. But Warner Bros never made Reid Fleming’s movie, and the film rights belong solely to them, leaving Fleming destined for nothing but comic book cult status.

Director Tyrell looks to rectify this by giving Reid Fleming and David Boswell another chance at cinematic life in this documentary short. Not only are interview subjects talking about the history of Fleming and singing his and Boswell’s praises, but beautiful animation is used to tell the story, breathing life once again into Reid Fleming. Perhaps this taster of Fleming in motion will give Warner Bros the nudge they very much need to bring Reid Fleming out of their vaults and straight to the big screen! They really need to stop pissing on our flowers.


Our interview with director Charlie Tyrell.

Strange Weather
Directed by Tom Shrapnel
Starring Maxine Peake and Lex Shrapnel

In Strange Weather, Wes (Shrapnel) and Jane (Peake) separately bare witness to a bizarre weather phenomenon, leaving them forever changed and mystically drawn together.

An ambient and ambiguous piece, Strange Weather is predominantly a director’s showcase rather than a short film with a solid narrative. The extraordinary mood of this film, alongside the stunning visuals makes Shrapnel a director to watch. He clearly has a good eye for the visual language of film and understands how to solidly set a distinct tone to make this film his own, with a uniquely defined style. He directs Peake to give an excellent and gripping, largely silent performance as Jane, a woman lost in her own sorrow, slowly lifted by the weather. Peake’s sullen performance adds beautifully to the tone of the film, lulling the viewer into this world created by Shrapnel.

As it’s a short and ambiguous film, it may not be one to necessarily seek out in the cinema. However, Strange Weather is something director Tom Shrapnel should be very proud to have in his portfolio.


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