Raindance Highlights 2010

by erin

The past week and a half has flown by in the blur of films and festivities that is Raindance. It was my first year at the festival and I found the experience quite overwhelming, but in a good way. Every day at the Apollo I was struck by the quality and breadth of films screening, the intriguing, passionate people behind those films, and the dedication of everyone committed to making Raindance one of the best indie film festivals in the world.

The festival started off in the best of all possible ways: with the premiere of the original film by the McHenry Brothers, Jackboots at Whitehall, followed by an after party at Café de Paris. The film was a retelling of the end of WWII performed by masterful puppets and voiced by the likes of Ewan McGregor, Rosamund Pike, and Alan Cumming. Afterward, audiences crowded into the Café de Paris for a live set by American indie band The Airborne Toxic Event. The performance was intimate, done on the ground level in front of the crowd who went wild. Perhaps the highlight of my night, however, was watching my co-workers bust out their superb dance moves. The mood was sustained late into the night with dance music late played the illustrious DJ, Andrew Weatherall. Couldn’t make it, or can’t quite remember the evening’s conclusion? Click here to watch clips from the night’s revelries.

On Thursday, the 30th September, I sat down with the dynamic trio behind the inspiring and provocative film Do Elephants Pray? During our interview writer/star Jonnie Hurn told me that he was inspired by personal, real-life events to write the script about a jaded man who is awakened by a passionate French woman. Director Paul Hills was eager to be involved in the project, as was actor Marc Warren who said of the film, “I think all of us, we struggle between being really fucking crazy and also trying to find the spiritual thing within us, and this is a film that captured all of that and I think that, in a way, it captures all our lives.” To see more from our interview, click here.

Later that afternoon I had a lovely chat with writer/director/actor Peter Boyd Maclean. He was the first of several one-man armies I had the chance to talk with during the festival, and I was intrigued by the explorative nature of his film. Peter started out filming his artist friend, Millree Hughes, as a favor, but a few day shoot soon evolved into a project spanning years in which Peter documented Millree’s art, but also his own artistic process in the creation of his film. “Because [Millree] said, do whatever you want to do,” Peter explained, “I had no restrictions by anybody. There was no producers, no TV company telling me what to do. This is kind of a moment of liberation for me, so I just did whatever I wanted to do, dug a really big hole.” To read more about my interview and watch clips visit my blog entry about our conversation.

The Woman with a Broken Nose screened on Monday 4 October, just three days after the film won the Golden Eye Award at the Zurich Film Festival. Director Srjdan Koljevic and actress Branka Katic were in attendance. In his introduction to the film Srjdan told the audience, “It’s a film about the way to get on when you’re stuck, and a lot of us are stuck I think.” The film, which he described as “funny and emotional at the same time,” kept the audience enthralled with the story of emotionally-charged characters struggling make sense of life and love as their worlds intertwine. Srjdan and Branka answered questions following the screening and I had the chance to interview Srjdan afterward. Click here to see clips from the Q&A and read about my interview.

Wednesday brought about the screening of The Cutting Tradition, a documentary about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, in which women are circumcised to keep them chaste. The film revealed searing insights into the perpetuation of FGM, and its societal and personal ramifications. Director and producer Nancy Durrell McKenna was at the screening to answer questions and spoke with me in an interview. Nancy is amazing woman who traveled to rural communities to speak with the people most intimately involved with the tradition. Despite personal bias she was adamant about keeping the film objective, saying, “In our case we let the people speak for themselves and in so doing it highlighted just how complex this subject is.” To hear more from our interview go to my blog entry about our talk.

Friday I spoke with another activist filmmaker, Carol Dysinger, who traveled solo to Afghanistan five times from 2004-2007. During her ten months there, Carol integrated herself into the Afghan community as well as into the Afghan and National Guard military bases, filming everything she witnessed. The result is her documentary Camp Victory Afghanistan, which reveals the relationship of two officers, one Afghan and one American, as they struggle to train an Afghan National Army. When I finally screened the film Sunday, it exceeded my high expectations, both in depth and scope. “What I hope audiences takes away from the film,” Carol said, “is that there are Afghans who are smart, loyal to their country, want to have a modern country.” Here is my blog with more of our interview including a video of our discussion.

Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry screened on Saturday afternoon with cocktails featuring Jerry's namesake rum served at the bar beforehand. Once again I had the in for an interview with the director. After mocking me for butchering his film’s title (awkwardly enough it’s pronounced the way that it’s spelled), Erich Weiss filled me in on the meaning behind Hori Smoku, the name that legendary tattoo artist Norman Collins assumed in reference to the Japanese tattoo masters who inspired his art. Erich journeyed across the States, sleeping on couches when his funds ran out, to interview the country’s greatest tattoo artists. His film has been embraced by the tattooing community as a definitive history of the tradition as it exists in America. Watch our interview on my blog

My Saturday evening came to an end with an interview of two of the actresses of the phenomenon Donoma. Created with only $200, Donoma threatened Hollywood at Cannes this fall, proving you don't need a big budge to create a high-quality film. The film itself, an exploration of the miscommunications and power-struggles in modern human relationships, is the brain-child of Djinn Carrénard who wrote, directed, filmed, and produced the film. Actresses Émilia Dérou Bernal and Salomé Blechmans raved about his innovations as a director, including allowing them to improvise almost every scene so long as they stayed within the framework of the storyline. The stars traveled to the festival without him, as the team has spread out across the globe to promote Donoma, sharing their experiences with loyal Facebook fans and going into the streets to spread the word about their small film. Here is my blog about our chat including a video from the interview.

The film festival closed Sunday with the highly acclaimed Son of Babylon, which won our own Best International Feature Award at the Raindance Awards Ceremony just before the screening. The film showed war-ravened Iraq in the weeks after Saddam Hussein’s fall, through the story of a young boy searching for some trace of his missing father. The poignant film gave form to a time and place that previously had been understood through faint news clips drifting in my head. It will haunt me long into the future when I think of Iraq.

The closing party, held in the Apollo’s bar, was a gratifying conclusion to a giddy week and a half. It was good to wind down over wine and discuss stimulating films with my co-workers. We talked about our altered perspectives of Iraq and Afghanistan and the films that had made us belly-laugh, in between greeting our new festival friends. Perhaps this is the brilliance of Raindance: that it grows discussions, ideas, and friendships, out of the showing of exceptional films. For me, Peter Boyd Maclean summed it up in one of my first conversations of the festival when he said, “What’s really great about these festivals, and about the independent films, is they don’t broadcast that stuff anymore, you know, films that people have just kind of made on their own, that they have their own control over. True films, which don’t follow format. They follow their own stuff, filmmaking, and that’s good, you know.”