Five Days on Lesvos – Best Documentary Nominee

In an increasingly connected age, it’s still all too easy to cut yourself off from a humanitarian crisis. You can pretend it’s not there, that is has nothing to do with you – that is until it comes crashing through idyllic blue waters and lands on your sandy holiday beach. Such is the experience of tourists on the isle of Lesvos, who must decide whether to join tirelessly working volunteers or continue with their leisure trip as planned. We see both in this documentary and the train that ferries holiday makers along the promenade forms a potent metaphor for the divide between those who travel for leisure and those who must walk miles along dusty roads with their young children, clutching water bottles provided by over-stretched helpers. Without an adequate response at a government level, there is a sense of drowning hopelessness – for the refugees, for the volunteers and for anyone who can empathise with their situation. Combining news footage with interviews and reportage straight from the island, this film has an eloquent way of getting that message across.

A Plastic Ocean – Best Documentary Nominee

A team of researchers and adventurers set out to observe blue whales in the ocean, but soon find their dives impeded by the level of plastic pollution in the mammals’ environment. The passionate team share one thing: as people whose formative years were spent near the ocean, they are revolted by the fact that human plastic production is destroying the environment. They set out to document the global consequences of our disposable lifestyle. “It’s just junk everywhere”, comments a researcher during a dive in the Mediterranean, the most polluted body of water on earth. If this revelation about our oceans feels heartbreaking at first, against the backdrop of the awe-inspiring depths of the sea, it soon becomes simply revolting, as figures about the damage grow and the implications get overwhelming. Journalist Craig Leeson has made an essential documentary here. His research not only shows the extent of damages that can be caused by plastic pollution, both on marine and human lives, but also smartly outlines possibilities for change and improvement with immediate effect and far-reaching positive outcomes.

Gozo – Best Thriller Nominee

Young couple Lucille and Joe move to a beautiful house on a Mediterranean island. However, their seemingly idyllic new life soon proves too good to be true as the past gradually comes back to haunt them. From the house’s contaminated water and the disturbing sounds picked up on Joe’s recordings, to the posters around town of a missing young woman, a disquieting air builds gradually to a disturbing and chaotic climax. While Lucille attempts to get the most of their new life, Joe is increasingly consumed by his work, each day becoming more erratic and in turn more unsure in his grasp of reality. A dramatic event in the couple’s past is evident from the offset and yet the film cleverly manages to maintain a sense of quiet dread right up until its final moments. With standout performances from the two captivating leads, Ophelia Lovibond and Joseph Kennedy, Gozo is a strange and unsettling mystery. Often overwhelming on the senses as it reaches its final act, it immaculately depicts the unrelenting anguish, violence and confusion of the disturbing past revealing itself once more.

Gozo won Best UK Feature at the 24th Raindance Film Festival.

Dusky Paradise – Best Foreign Language Film Nominee

Jacob has no interest in other people. Unadventurous and apathetic towards life, he finds himself travelling to a foreign country for one purpose: a tortoise. In these unfamiliar surroundings, Jacob is forced to spend time with his overbearing neighbour Matteo, who whiles away his days reading, painting and stalking his ex-wife. An unlikely friendship forms as they attempt to understand each other’s eccentricities and find a new potential for happiness. Through each other’s friendship and Jacob’s pet tortoise, they can both heal their emotional wounds. Tackling themes of grief and heartbreak, the warm cinematography and touching humour of these troubled characters makes Dusky Paradise a stirring look at the importance of human relationships. Set where the mountains are green and the sun always shines, this film wills you to forget everyday stresses and appreciate the little moments of pleasure. Charlotte Krenz gives a charming performance as the adventurous and audacious Zoe, while Kes Baxter’s Jacob is just the right amount of socially awkward to have you cringing in your seat. With a beautiful original score from Lucas Zavala, and music from Oh So Quiet, this is everything you could ever want from an indie film and more.

Kamper – Best Foreign Language Film Nominee

You know them. They’re the thirty-something-year-old couple madly in love with a crazy, carefree life. But everything changes for Kamper and Mania when their marriage hits a bump in the road and they must re-evaluate their lives, asking what comes next. Kamper is the quiet guy who works as a computer games tester and appreciates his marriage without any obligations. Mania is ambitious, hardworking and passionate to achieve her dream of becoming a chef – to the extent that she ends up cheating on her husband with a famous television chef, a mature man who’s the personification of success. Mania is thrown off-course and questions whether his success and appeal are more attractive than the carefree charm of her husband. But instead of working through their problems, Kamper also acts on a whim – his attraction to his beautiful Spanish teacher. From the first scene where Kamper and Mania are seemingly happy to the last, when they finally come to a decision, this quietly paced film explores the consequences of the harsh truth.

Kamper won the Discovery Award at the 24th Raindance Film Festival.

The Farm – Best Foreign Language Film Nominee

The lives of a woman who craves motherhood, a boy valued for the power of his punches and a teenage heroin addict are more entwined than they think in this gritty Puerto Rican drama. La Granja (The Farm) documents the places where the human and the animal meet and the ways in which economic uncertainty and political corruption force individuals to behave like beasts. This is an environment that has been left to ruin and a new hierarchy of power has emerged, with drugs as its main economy. The rugged shooting style, stark natural lighting and close intimate shots force the viewer into the action, to live within this dirty underworld alongside its shady characters. Despite their disgusting behaviours and questionable activities, you can’t help but feel committed to the lives of these misguided adults and wayward kids. Their happiness becomes the viewer’s unobtainable but ever desperate objective. Starkly uncomfortable to watch, La Granja portrays the tragic condition of many barrios that are ruled by organised crime and drugs trafficking. A complex and surprising narrative structure keeps you glued to the screen, while the crumbling community depicted will stay with you long after you’ve left the cinema.

Stoner Express (formally AmStarDam) – Best Independent Feature & Best Breakthrough Performance in a Film Nominee

The debut feature from accomplished music video directors the Lennox Brothers, AmStarDam is a fantasy stoner comedy about Jack’s quest to find his dad. Sick of his musician mother’s poor parenting, Jack sets off on his 21st birthday to reconcile with his absent father, only to discover that he is the failed owner of a marijuana coffee shop. In a chance meeting with a homeless man, Jack might have found the solution to his father’s business issues, and to growing their non-existent relationship. They just have to plant the seed. A modernisation of a classic fairytale, AmStarDam is a riotous movie of rebellion and sticking it to the man. In the midst of laugh-out-loud characters, vulgar jokes and absurd situations is an unexpectedly heart-warming comedy. Starring the outrageous and alternative stars of British comedy, including Alice Lowe and Javone Prince, you can’t help but grow attached to AmStarDam’s wayward group of misfits. Kenneth Collard gives a particularly memorable performance as the Segway-riding corporate sell out Eddie, whose pantomime villainy is brilliantly ridiculous. An outlandish take on the city of coffee shops and live sex shows, AmStarDam is a rowdy feel-good comedy about family, friendship, but most importantly, marijuana.

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The Raindance Film Festival runs each Autumn in London's Leicester Square.

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