You may think it random that a film festival director of all people would sit and chose a few movies from a lifetime of doing little more than watching movies. Here’s why:
Cinema is the most powerful communication tool there is – combining sound, music, images and words.
Making movies is also the most challenging of all the arts given not only the multitude of skills a filmmaker needs, but the amount of collaboration involved.
Movies also can change lives – for better and worse. As movies indeed changed my life.
1. Lassie Comes Home
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox
Screenplay by Hugo Butler based on Eric Knight’s novel.
I was never supposed to end up in the film business. My parents, farmers, were part of a very conservative Amish Mennonite group outside Toronto and taught me that the devil lived in the movie theatre.
One hot summer’s day when I ws 16 I was sent into town to get a part repaired. Rather than travel home, turn around and come straight back, I snuck into a movie theatre and saw Lassie Comes Home. I sobbed most of the way through and at the end jumped up and felt the screen trying to see if I could feel the texture of the bark or the fur. Remember – until that day I had no idea what a movie was.
Click on this famous picture of Liz Taylor and watch the original movie trailer:
2. The Sound of Music
Directed by Robert Wise
Screenplay by Ernest Lehman based on books by Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse, Ernest Lehman and Maria von Trapp
After Lassie Comes Home I was totally hooked and snuck off to see this, my second movie. I probably shouldn’t admit to this, but this movie stayed with me for years, with it’s uplifting story of a family torn apart by misfortune, as my own was.
Recently I was struck how influential this movie was when several of the Raindance postgraduate students included it in their research for their scritps and movies.
If you click on the movie poster you can watch the trailer, full of snippets of those famous songs and Julie Andrews.
3. Easy Rider
Directed by Dennis Hopper
Written by Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper & Terry Southern
I finished my last year of high school in Toronto. The Viet Nam war was still raging, the newspaper were full of stories of protests and student riots. We would always go to see a movie in downtown Toronto on Friday night.
Easy Rider totally captivated me, and I must have seen this movie a dozen times. I also loved the music by The Band which is featured on the soundtrack. It was a long time before I was able to realise the significance of the ampersands in the screenplay credits.
Years later in London we played Easy Rider in an independent film retrospective. I finally tracked down a print and it arrived at my Soho office in beat-up film cans. I scaped off all the labels and found, in Dennis Hopper’s own handwriting addressed to the Cannes Film Festival. I bet those beat up film cans would be a fortune now on eBay.
4. Love & Human Remains
Directed by Denys Arcand
Screenplay by Brad Fraser based on his own stage play
The first year’s festival featured two very different but distinctive movies: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? had its world premiere at Raindance along with the edgy and erotic Love & Human Remains – the first english language movie by Montrealer Denys Arcand. It was shot in my home town of Toronto and I love the way the stories of people on the search for love was intercut with a serial killer on a murderous rampage.
I had to hurriedly organise a second screening because so many acquisition execs wanted to see it. They would come out of the screening room with damp eyes and the film was sold to many distributors at the popcorn stand after the screening by producer Roger Frappier. My first real life lesson in the business of film.
5. Blair Witch Project
Written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
After 7 years of preaching the low budget indie (but commercial films) gossip the Yanks hit a home run with BWP – a movie about 3 film students who get lost in the woods.
We were so fortuante that Maj Brett Kirchner, then the MD of Pathe, agreed to give this movie to the festival. It was hugely beneficial to Raindance and really established us on the London scene. The star studded screening was as legendary as the movie. The UK marketing of the movie was brilliantly led by Ian George (currently head of marketing at Paramount Europe) and I got my first up-close-and-personal taste of life near the fast lane.
On the 10th anniversay I heard from Eduardo and Daniel who said their Raindance screening (which was a European premoiere) was their favourite European festival screening.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay by Jens Dahl, Nicolas Winding Refn
When the Dane appeared with Pusher we all knew that this was going to be a big time career, but we didn’t know when. Stylish and drippingly cool, Pusher influenced independent filmmaking with it’s cinema vertite style and unflinching grit.
Refn attended Raindance with the brilliant actor Kim Bodnia, cineamtographer Morten Søborg and producer Henrik Danstrup. I managed to convince Nicholas to shoot a short, which we did on 35mm on the street outside our office, with Morten Søborg lensing it.
Nicholas showed me the uncompromising vision filmmakers must have. Then of course he made Drive.
7. Wisconsin Death Trip
Directed by James Marsh
Screenplay by James Marsh based on the novel by Michael Lesy
James Marsh made this stunning film under the BBC’s Arena banner. His original visual storytelling techniques were a precursor to his more recent work, the Oscar winner Man On Wire. Shadow Dancer and Hold On To Me.
8. Old Boy
Screenplay by Jo-yun Hwang, Chun-hyeong Lim, Chan-wook Park based on story by Garon Tsuchiya and comic by Nobuaki Minegishi
This stylish cult classic played Raindance and showed how the Koreans can teach us in the West a thing or two about filmmaking and adaptations. As can be seen from the cringeworthy remake.
9. Another Earth
Directed by Mike Cahill
Screenplay by Brit Marling, Mike Cahill
This wonderful and quirky indie feature astonished and enthralled me when it opened the 19th Raindance Film Festival. How Mike Cahill and and Brit Marling came up with such a wonderful story and bent genres proved to me not only how new ideas are so rare, but how independent filmmaking is so important.
10. How Do You Write A Joe Sherman Song
Writen and directed by Gary King
Indepednent filmmaking at it’s very best.
Wonderful acting, beautifully shot, fantasic music and an original orchestral score all wrapped in a stereotypical 1940’s Hollywood musical – and to top it off, done on a minimal budget.
This movie proves 2 things to me: Gary King has a brilliant future, and the whole reason I started Raindance – to showcase new work – remains as important now as it did in 1993.