Raindance: Film Reviews and Winners

Last week I attended the 19th Raindance Film Festival in London, watching six films out of the 12 days. Looking back, I wish I had gone to more screenings, but alas, there were only so many films I could process in a single day (it’s not advisable to hermit oneself away in a dark room). The Apollo Theatre in Piccadilly had been specially transformed for the festival – the waiting foyer was artfully arranged with posters, flyers and Raindance programmes.  A wall of Polaroid photos (nostalgic) showed who had attended already: directors, writers, actors etc. from all over the world.

The films I watched ranged from the ridiculously low budget (‘Days Gone By’) to art council funded projects (‘X’ and ‘By Day and By Night’). The biggest audience was for ‘War Games’ – it was almost completely full in the theatre – although that might have been because nearly all of the cast and crew attended the screening and each brought along their family and friends. Being an independent film festival, several of the films ran with some problems (ear-splitting volume, frames freezing, giant watermarks on the reel itself), but all in all, it was an extremely successful week that saw a 62% rise in box office this year.

Here were the award winners for this year’s festival:

Best International Feature: Just Between Us / Rajko Grlic – Croatia/Serbia/Slovenia
Best UK Feature: Stranger Things / Eleanor Burke/Ron Eyal – UK
Best Debut Feature: Tilt / Viktor Chouchkov Jr. – Bulgaria
Best Microbudget Feature: Monk3ys / Drew Cullingham – UK
Best Documentary: How to Start A Revolution / Ruaridh Arrow – UK
Best International Short: Words /  Sven Vinge – Denmark
Best UK Short: Love At First Sight / Michael Davies – UK
Film of The Festival: Reset / Nicolangelo Gelormini – Italy

I shied away from these award-winning films, however, and instead hand-picked an eclectic mix to watch – there were a few misses but there were also a few surprising hits. That’s the best thing about festivals like Raindance – you could end up watching a film you would have never heard about.  My personal favourite (although the films I chose greatly differed in genre) was ‘LiTTLEROCK’ by American director Mike Ott, a film about two Japanese siblings – Atsuko and Rintaro – whose rental car breaks down in rural America en route to Manzanar. At first glance, the town holds little fascination: it’s full of lazy drunken rednecks who sit on their porches all day smoking and drinking. But Atsuko soon attracts a few admirers and she decides to stay there for a few more days, by herself, while Rintaro continues to San Francisco. Nothing really happens in this film, but it has a really good cast, an incredibly soundtrack (the Icelandic Amiina and local band ‘The Cave Singers’) and touches on interesting themes: homophobia in small-town America, language barriers, and the real reason the Japanese siblings travelled to Manzanar – to find a little piece of their own history deep in the centre of America.

Still from LiTTLEROCK

Other notable films included ‘X’, an appropriately titled (it was very graphic) Australian thriller about two prostitutes on the streets of Sydney. One of them is about to retire, the other has just started. They witness a murder and it soon turns into a game of cat and mouse – or cop and prostitute – filmed with incredible clarity and pace. A special mention has to go to young actress Hanna Mangen Lawrence, who played down-on-her-luck newcomer Shay. ‘By Day and By Night’, a Mexican film, was also incredibly powerful. The ridiculously beautiful cast (all Aquiline profiles and liquid eyes) pulled off the film perfectly, showing how the world was split into Day and Night shifts – basically, scientists developed an enzyme to alter people’s body clocks, so if you’re a Day person, you fall into a coma when the sun goes down and wake up at sunrise. One of the protagonists, Aurora is missing a child (Luna) who used to live with her in the Day night. Unbeknown to her, Luna has been switched to a Night Person (seemingly impossible) and is hidden from the authorities by doctor Urbano, who himself was switched when he was a child. There are some absolutely heartbreaking scenes where Aurora pines for Luna, never knowing that she is safe – just not awake when she is. The closing sequences are devastating and yet beautiful. What struck me about the film was its subtlety in handling this particular subject – there were no explicit ‘this is the year 3500, we are all night and day people’ slogans or messages. Instead the audience was left to slowly process and understand the strange future world the director had created.

Still from ‘X’

Dates for next year’s Raindance has already been released – 26th September to 7th October 2012 – see you there!

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