London’s Raindance Festival turns 25: a bold celebration of independent film in all its glory

The 25th Raindance Film Festival launched in London last Wednesday with an ambitious selection of contemporary international cinema including features, documentaries, short films, web films and an innovative virtual reality strand. This year’s competition jury boasts big names in British film including Jack O’Connell (from TV hit Skins and recently on stage in ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’), actor Jamie Campbell Bower (from the Harry Potter and Twilight series), Ewen Bremner (seen in Trainspotting and more recently in Wonder Woman,), Christopher Eccleston (Dr Who and classic favourite Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave), Marianne Ragipcien Jean-Baptiste (seen in Broadchurch and known for her leading role in Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies), Celia Imrie (a familiar face in UK films including Best Marigold Hotel, Bridget Jones, Absolutely Fabulous, etc.), and many more.

This year the festival, founded by Elliot Grove, received a record-breaking number of submissions from over 120 countries and features over 200 projects including the UK premiere of Oh Lucy! by Atsuko Hirayanagi starring Josh Hartnett (see my review here) and international premiere of Stuck by Michael Berry, a musical film about six strangers who get stuck on a New York City subway together and change each other’s lives in unexpected ways.

Among the highlights of the film selection are Tony Gatlif’s Djam (France/Greece/Turkey), a young woman’s music-filled journey between Greece, Turkey and the Aegean islands (see my review here). Maya Dardel (USA), starring Rosanna Arquette, tells the story of a poet who announces on a radio show she is going to kill herself and is looking for a man to execute her. Other highlights in the programme include In Another Life (UK), by Jason Wingard, a topical story about a refugee struggling to be reunited with his wife in the UK. Black Butterfly (Italy) by Brian Goodman is a mountain-based thriller starring Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. You’re Killing Me Susana (Mexico / Canada), by Roberto Sneider, the producer of Frida, stars Gael Garcia Bernal and tells the story of a Mexican native adapting to life in the USA.

The festival offers specific film strands such as Women In Film and LGBT. While the former includes Barrage (Lux / Belgium / France), a road trip directed by Laura Schroeder and starring Isabelle Huppert and her real life daughter Lolita Chammah, the latter features legendary queer director Bruce LaBruce’s latest film The Misandrists (Germany), about a young man who is taken in by members of the Female Liberation Army.

The new virtual reality strand includes a VR Arcade open to the public which allows audience members to experience the latest advances in storytelling by showing selected works from Raindance VRX Awards nominees, such as Ray, a VR fairytale with visual effects and voice recognition or Second Date, where the viewer is invited to share a couple’s intimacy.

The short film competition features Jeannie Donohoe’s Game (USA), about a mysterious new comer at the high school boys’ basketball team, whereas the Web Series taps into the online video industry including Tom Kingsley’s BBC Three hilarious YouTube mockumentary Pls Like (UK) with Liam Williams and Tim Key. Other events include Live! Ammunition, a pitching event; a Co-production Forum focused on the UK and Italian film industries; China Day.

As with most film festivals, the trick will be to choose what to see and to find the time to see all those great independent projects!

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