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Categories: Features

Francesca Amoroso breaks down the bold and beautiful films that will be gracing screens in London for the 25th Raindance Film Festival.

It’s the 25th anniversary of the largest independent film festival in Europe and Raindance is celebrating in style; with a plethora of delightful and captivating bravura, this year’s festival is something quite special. An overwhelming variety of features, shorts, documentaries, web series and, for the first time ever, a host of Virtual Reality experiences make the 2017 Raindance festival’s line-up their best to date.

Running from the 20th September – 1st October in London’s West End at the Leicester Square Vue Cinema, the wondrous array of films, in every sense of the word, from filmmakers across the globe are certainly not to be missed.

The festival is set to kick off with the UK premiere of Astuko Hirayanagi’s Oh Lucy! starring Josh Hartnett. The film is a drama-comedy surrounding Setsuko Kawashima, a lonely middle-aged woman living and working in Tokyo who is convinced by her niece to take an unconventional English speaking class. Setsuko’s teacher (Hartnett) makes her adopt an American alter ego, with a new name, blonde wig and all, which has profound consequences on the life of the significantly unhappy Setsuko.

The film was originally Hirayanagi’s MFA thesis piece and first graced the festival circuit in 2014 as a 22-minute short film. Three years on, the short has been expanded to feature length and the Japanese filmmaker has certainly filled the extra hour with some beautifully vibrant imagery. This touching and slightly off-kilter drama-comedy sets the tone for the opening night with its happy abandonment of filmic conventions. If you can’t make it to the premiere, it’s also available to view on the 27th September.

With a record-breaking number of submissions from over 120 countries, the 12 days will continue with over 200 projects available for your visual intoxication. There are a wide selection of feature films vying for the prize of Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Performance from both the UK and the rest of the world. One of note from the USA will be the international premiere of Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak’s Maya Dardel.

The film is the pair’s feature-length and directorial debuts and follows the tale of an internationally renowned poet and novelist who announces on National Public Radio that she plans to end her life. She invites young, male writers to compete intellectually and erotically for the chance to become the executor of her estate. Set in the enigmatic and desolate mountainscape of Maya’s home in Santa Cruz, Lena Olin gives a poignantly disturbing and destructive performance as the unhinged and lonesome Maya, whose ultimate end game to this absurd charade is as ambiguous as the woman herself. The film will surely be a triumph, both Cotler and Zyzak already having decorated careers; Zyzak’s first feature film Redland was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award in 2010 and won Best Debut Feature at the 2009 Raindance Film Festival. This catastrophic tale of sarcastic self-destruction will be screened both days on the last weekend of the festival.

Other feature films of note are Tony Gatlif’s Djam from a team of Turkish, Greek and French filmmakers, which follows the curious and diverse encounters of a young Greek woman as she is sent to Istanbul by her uncle to procure a rare part for his boat. This libertarian journey ultimately explores the plight of those living in crisis-stricken Greece and Turkey and what price you can put on freedom in the face of a migrant emergency and subsequent economic disarray. Tony Gatlif won the Best Director award at the 2004 Cannes Festival for his feature of a similar nature, Exils, and comparable to his previous success Gatlif’ Djam is an ‘on the road’ journey that embraces the fullness and variety of individual and collective experiences; surely a voyage worth taking.

Laura Schroeder’s Barrage stars Academy Award nominee Isabelle Huppert and her real life daughter Lolita Chammah. It chronicles the tale of Catherine (Chammah), a young mother plagued by substance addiction who returns to Luxemborg after 10 years away to visit her estranged daughter, Alba, who has been raised by Catherine’s mother (Huppert). A touching look at three generations of women and what it means to be a mother, see it on the 25th and 28th of September.

You Are Killing Me Susana, directed by Roberto Sneider, starring Gael Garcia Bernal and based on the novel Deserted Cities by Jose Augustin, follows the manic journey of Eligio as he follows his wife Susana to America after she abandons him in Mexico. He attempts to adapt to life in the U.S. whilst trying to win back the heart of the woman he consistently took for granted. Watch this enjoyable romantic comedy on the 23rd and 29th of September.

Mukoku from Japan and by filmmaker Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (23rd and 30th September) is set in Kamakura and follows Kengo who was trained in the Japanese martial art of Kendo by his father. After a tragic accident Kengo quits training and becomes a security guard, slowly drinking himself to death. One day he meets a high school student, Toru, who is naturally gifted in the art of Kendo and through his training of Toru, Kengo slowly learns to live again. The film is based on Shu Fujisawa’s novel of the same name and resembles the Showa Era of Japanese manga that was part of the supo-kon genre, emphasising masculine sports that championed feelings of guts, endurance and discipline.

A highly anticipated film from the UK is Jason Wingard’s directorial debut, In Another Life, available to see on the 26th and 28th September, that follows the story of Adnan a former teacher and current Syrian refugee who finds himself trapped in the Calais encampment known as The Jungle. This poignant exploration of European xenophobia in the face of international crisis is witnessed through the slow degradation of a good man forced into illegal means in his desperate attempt to be reunited with his wife. There is a bitter accuracy to this docudrama in its representation of the current climate for refugees, struggling to find solace within a continent that actively rejects and discriminates against them. This film is an undeniable feat in documenting the rise in fanatic nationalism in recent years and is owed due attention. We all have a responsibility to understand our role and our countries’ roles within the demonization of those who have been forced from their homes and this film has no qualms in making its audience do so.

Across the festival there is an abundant display of female filmmaking including documentary The Family I Had by American co-directors Katie Green and Carlyle Rubin. They follow the tragic story of Charity Bennett as she deals with the aftermath of her 13-year old son, Paris, murdering his 4-year old sister, Ella. The complexities of this seemingly random act of brutal violence are intricately investigated in this thrilling picture. A family with a marked history of drug abuse, schizophrenia and alternate accusations of murder, inspires a medley of conflicting sympathetic and hostile empathies. The Family I Had will be screened on the 23rd and 29th September.

Another female-made documentary is Melody Makers by Leslie Ann Coles, looking into the death of rock ‘n’ roll journalism through the eyes of the Chief Contributing Photographer for long-forgotten British magazine Melody Makers. This is Coles’ debut documentary and after previous narrative successes, she is sure to have produced a delightful filmic history of the legends of music seen through the magazine’s fans and employees. From Sid Barrett to John Lennon, watch the tragic rise and fall of this publication and its appreciation of music heroes before they were heroes on the 24th and 28th September.

A host of LGBTQ films are also gracing the screens of this year’s festival, most notably The Misandrists by Bruce LaBruce, a legendary queer director, whose film ingeniously critiques the meanings of gender and sexuality through the tale of a young injured man who is unwittingly taken in by the Female Liberation Army. Disguising their base as a school for troubled women, these ladies plan to overthrow the patriarchy through a new form of lesbian pornography that functions as propaganda for their cause. The film is a riot of colour and fantastical ideology and will be screened on the 23rd and 26th of September.

Aside from the feature-length productions there are a host of short films and web series available to see, be sure to catch the UK premiere of Jannie Donohoe’s Game (23rd and 30th September) about a new kid in town who makes a stellar first impression at the high school’s basketball tryouts. Goddess (24th September and 1st October) from Karishma Dube, explores the tragedies and difficulties of being a lesbian in contemporary India and Cla’am (23rd September and 1st October), from filmmaker Nathaniel Martello-White and nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW, explores the gentrification of a London neighbourhood and one of its inhabitants becoming convinced that there is a conspiracy behind his changing environment.

Outside of the conventional films that will be screened, there is the exciting and newest addition to the Raindance festival – the VR strand that will host a variety of VR experiences. The VR Arcade is open to the public from the 29th September to the 1st October, where audiences will be able to engage with a selection of the nominees for the VR Awards. Among the nominees is DJ Floating Point’s 360° experience entitled Peroration Six that takes audiences through a melodic and supernatural journey through the Utah desert. Jennifer Lyon Bell’s Second Date is an unscripted look at the sensuality between two lovers, with audience members intimately sharing the space with them. The recognition of the pioneering filmmaking happening within VR technology is a welcome and innovative addition to the festival, so do not miss out on the assortment of immersive storytelling available across the 12 days!

And finally, closing the festival in an appropriately spectacular and joyous display is the adaptation of Riley Thomas’ stage musical Stuck, which highlights the differences between six strangers trapped on a New York subway car between stations. Tensions build throughout the film as the variety of races, ages and cultures begin to clash and challenge one another through the players’ musical performances. Starring Ashanti, Giancarlo Esposito and Amy Madigan, Michael Berry’s film showcases the ultimate similarities that bind a society together. These strangers’ lives are unexpectedly changed forever through the chance meeting of five others who are so very different from themselves.

This is a mere outline of a few selections of the plethora of films available during the festival and the stellar panel consisting of Jack O’Connell, Sean Bean, Christopher Eccleston, Ewen Bremner and Jamie Campbell Bower to name a few, are sure to have their work cut out for them in picking this year’s winners.

Please check out the full programme on Raindance’s website where you can view trailers, read full summaries of all the projects available and buy your tickets. Follow Raindance on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with the festival’s antics and download their app, available on iOS and Android to get involved in the community or simply to schedule your festival screenings.

We hope to see you there!


Posted on Sep 17, 2017

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