Elliot Grove, who founded the Raindance Film Festival 24 years ago, partly credits last year’s Variety e-dailies with almost doubling the number of submissions his festival received from overseas – a phenomenon that may yet inspire him to brush up on his geography. “We have films from 59 countries,” he enthuses, “many of which I’d never heard of, because they change their bloody names! The line-up is dominated by films from America and Britain, of course, but we also have a great number of films from the east, the south and the north.”
At the same time, however, Grove generously acknowledges the significance of his festival’s location, suggesting that, despite the fallout from this year’s Brexit vote, fears that Britain was becoming more and more culturally estranged from the rest of the world are grossly exaggerated. “The other reason [for this spike],” he says, “is that London is a tourist destination, and, as a filmmaker, if you get a film into a London festival you’re going to attend. ‘Brand Britain’ itself has risen in value since the 2012 Olympics. If you’re not British, you think London is the coolest place to go, for technology, for creativity, for finance, for everything.
“Somehow, the ecosystem in London, despite the horrendous expense of living here, seems to attract creatives from all over the world. And that makes Raindance right bang, smack in the centre of it, being in [cinemas in] Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. I know we are the envy of many other festivals because of where we are, just physically, located.” He laughs. “Although if they only knew the angst my team went through sorting out the economics of that…”
The incoming stream of new movies not only reflects the boom in independent filmmaking that has occurred since the first festival in 1993, it’s also indicative of the age of digital filmmaking – unusually for a major city festival, Raindance selects chiefly from submissions, a process that would be unthinkable in the days of celluloid. “In terms of the digital revolution, I guess we realised that back in 1997,” he says, “when we were the first ever festival in Europe to show a video. We showed Sarah Jacobson’s feature film “Mary Jane’s Not A Virgin Anymore” – to my thinking, one of the very first digital features, shot on VHS. But at the same time, we’ve always been aware that if you want to get your movie out, you need a million bucks to go and buy all those expensive billboard ads, and if you don’t have it, how do you get audience engagement? The answer is social media. Now, it is ‘easier’ but there’s nothing ‘easy’ about it – it’s bloody, bloody hard work.”
Like many, Grove is both fascinated and confounded by social media, noting that talented amateurs profit more from a YouTube video than many experienced directors do from a feature. “How do you morph into that zone,” he wonders, “allowing yourself to be creative, achieve fulfilment, and monetise your work? If you knew that, you’d be sitting in a penthouse suite! But it’s so exciting too, because nobody knows, and there’s going to be someone out there – it could be someone visiting Raindance and seeing the virtual reality arcade, or one of the web series pilots or whatever – who suddenly sees a lightbulb and totally figures it out. And that person is going to be to modern filmmaking and visual content creation what Steven Spielberg or George Lucas were to movies in the ‘70s, or what sound was 100 years ago. It’s a very exciting time. The old models are crumbling, and as we’ve seen from history, whenever an old model crumbles, a new one emerges. Eventually that one will crumble as well, but the storytellers with vision understand how to hop on that and ride the wave.”
As for this year’s selection, Grove notes that, unusually for Raindance, things have taken a surprising turn for the topical. “There’s a lot of – in very general terms – ‘social issue’ documentaries and feature films,” he notes, “probably more than at any time over the 24 years that I’ve been doing the festival. Usually we have the romcoms and the thrillers – all that stuff – but it seems that almost without exception the documentaries and the narrative films deal with a pressing social issue. And I think that’s because people are scared of reading the news. Back in the days of Silence Of The Lambs we were curious about psychopaths, but that seems tame in comparison to what’s going on right now.”
So what would be the reason for this? He shrugs. “I think people want to learn how other people think we’re gonna survive these disasters the world is facing – the threat of Isis, ecological issues and so on. It’s a very interesting time to be alive and a very interesting time to be a filmmaker. I haven’t been so excited about the future of filmmaking in a good number of years, but I think all the signposts are there. It’s gonna change.”