1. What made you start Raindance?
I had worked as a scenic artist and set designer on over 68 feature films and 700 commercials, both here at the BBC Shepherd’s Bush 1974-77, and in my native Toronto in the early 80’s. When I moved to London in 1986 with my family, I entertained a fantasy of becoming a property magnate, and went bust in the 1990 recession. After a year of wallowing in self-pity, my neighbour, an elderly retired farmer (who served as a barber in WW1) said to me: “Elliot, as long as you are feeling sorry for yourself, no doctor in the world can help you.”
He was right, of course, but I no longer had any film contacts here or back in Toronto. So I hatched a plan of imported so-called gurus from Hollywood to give seminars and workshops enabling me to learn, make contacts and survive until something concrete kicked in.
After a few months, mates of mine started making films. Back then, in 92/93, there wasn’t really anywhere special to show British films. So I started the festival, in Leicester Square, to showcase the works of British Filmmakers.
2. You have been running Raindance for twenty years now. How do you manage to keep the festival and training that you do so fresh?
A couple of reasons I guess:
Firstly, we have somehow managed to stay true to our roots. I am blessed to be working with such an energetic, talented and passionate crew.
Secondly, I don’t have to worry about any outsiders pulling strings and trying to tell me what we can or cannot do. This means our films are typically much more controversial and underground than the fare served up by other festivals. And by controversial, remember that we are never controversial for the sake of controvesy. We are just trying to be true to ourselves.
3. What was the reaction of British filmmakers, and the British film industry when you started Raindance. Wasn’t John Major still prime minister then?
British people didnt see any big logo on those early posters and assumed Raindance was another con hatched by a tourist, I suppose. Raindance was pretty much ignored by the Brits until about six or seven years ago. It was the Japanese, French, German and American filmmakers who discovered Raindance well before the Brits.
4. Is it true you got into trouble over using the name?
I was sharing a one-room office with a single line with call-waiting when the phone rang and Robert Redford himself asked why I was stealing his name. I tried to explain that I was on a different continent, and would do everything possible to assist him in accessing the plethora of British talent for his marvellous festival when the line went dead. Later that year, in Montreal, the producer of Sundance threw a glass of wine in the face of Jamie Ader-Brown, who at that time was scouting American films for Raindance.
But there’s been no trouble since.
5. So why did you chose the name Raindance. Surely it creates confusion with Sundance.
Because of the ‘dance’ you need to do to make your film, and because it rains a lot in London.
6. Is it harder or easier to get people interested in Raindance Film Festival?
It’s actually a lot easier now to get people interested in Raindance for several reasons:
Firstly: we have a reputation for showing really excellent films. And films often never seen before in Europe. Distributors regularly come to Raindance to find new films, especially Asian films.
Secondly, people are getting pretty tired of Hollywood fare with their routine formulaic plotlines, and thirdly, independent cinema, by its very nature, is about topics told by deeply passionate people who tell stories about worlds we haven’t seen before (where we can learn something useful) or show us the world we already know (where we can learn). And generally, these topics and stories are stories so raw and visceral that Hollywood doesn’t dare touch them.
7. How would you describe a Raindance movie?
Off-Hollywood! And extreme – extreme topics, extreme storytelling, extreme soundtrack and music, extreme filmmaking techniques and extremely good.
8. What makes Raindance different?
Raindance is unique because we rely on films submitted to us by filmmakers. We who work at Raindance are filmmakers, and most of our films are by debut filmmakers.
9. What is the most rewarding memory of Raindance so far to you?
There have been too many rewarding moments to single out a specific one – but to say this: every so often an idea we have had here, worked hard and long on – and it works. The stars seem to all line up, and it seems to work.
A couple of years ago it had to be the private dinner I had with Faye Dunaway and a dozen of our benefactors.
I also meet dozens and dozens of the most talented people in my work at Raindance – and that is a special privilege which you just can’t describe.
10. What is your favourite film?
I was raised Amish and told to never go to the movie theatre because the devil lived there. When I was 16 I snuck into town to see what the devil looked like and saw Lassie Comes Home – the most influential movie in my life so far.
11. Who was your biggest influence?
Henry Moore the sculptor who I worked for a short while in 1973. He taught me how hard work, perseverance and honing your craft could enable an outsider to suceed.
12. What was your biggest bummer?
Whoa there! You gonna make me sound bitter in a ‘mo!
Being turned down by government funding agencies 29 times is one thing, but being shut out of the classroom in 2000/2001 when the UK Film Council was discussing a film market and coming up with the bizarrely conceived LUFF screenings was particularly hurtful.
You see, I had operated something that became known as the London Screenings from 1993 – 2001 when they were crushed by the mighty American Film Market moving their dates on top of ours.
At that time I was buddy with Dieter Koslick (Director of the Berlinale) who rubbed his hand with glee and got the European Film Market booming, leaving London marketless.
Why I was left alone, when in the last year of the London screenings we had over 1200 major buyers at our festival, I will never know. By the way, historically over 60% of the films screened at Raindance have been introduced to a distribution deal following their inclusion in our lineup. I doubt if any other festival can match that. But our civic leaders don’t seem to care about that.
13. What is wrong with independent film?
There isn’t anything wrong with independent film at all. What needs fixing are the distribution channels (which are controlled by a powerful few) and the way that script training, in this country at least, is not taught properly.
14.What, if any, is the biggest change in filmmaking over the past 20 years?
You mean outside the obvious influence of digital technology?
It is the way audiences are developed and maintained through the sue of social meadia, like theRaindance Twitter account. It is in this area that independent can really make a difference.
15. Why do you think independent filmmaking is so important?
Independent film is all about independent voices, independent opinion formed away from the soma thown at us by the global corporates and governments.
16. Who was your biggest ally?
Our Raindance Premium members. Without their moral and fianncial support Raindance wouldn’t have lasted 12 months let alone 20 years.
17. Where do you see traditional film festivals going?
With the advent of on-line film distribution and services such as Youtube, all film festivals, including Raindance, have to constantly evaluate their programme to ensure an attractive off-line presence. Some film festivals will fail to do so, and I suppose will fail. And any film festival without an on-line strategy is, in my opinion, doomed.
18. Why do you think Raindance is important?
In today’s day and age of government quangos and strident policies and long do and don’t lists, it falls to the independent sector to show how good private enterprise can be: both in terms of programming, and in terms of delivering quality cultural events at a price far more efficient than public bodies can.
19. Where do you see Raindance going?
Slowly but surely the big boys are taking notice of what we do, and slowly but surely Raindance is becoming known as the number one place to discover hot new talent.
I just need to get better at trumpeting our successes.
20. How have you managed to keep Raindance going all these years without any sponsorship of public money?
No one ever said my job was going to be easy.
We have had many sponsors over the years. And this year we are building to a relaunch of the festival in 2013 which I think will take everyone by surprise and present a terrific advertising and sponsorship opportunity for a select number of companies and brands.
Meanwhile, our registered charity the Independent Film Trust allows us to continue our work in film education for the disadvantaged.