With our current edition of #VOFF, we are partnering with the Raindance Film Festival in London. It will be the first time that we announce our winners live. Even though #VOFF is less than a year old and Raindance has been around for over two decades, both organizations share many commonalities.
The core mission for most film festivals—creating a community crossroads for filmmakers and audiences—will always stay true for any edition. How that happens and how people prefer to get to that crossroads has changed a lot since the days of wet prints being hand delivered right before screening time. But that also makes it a very interesting time right now for content creators and viewers alike.
I spoke to Elliot Grove, Founder and Festival Director of Raindance, about how things have changed over the years, what’s happening now, and what’s in store for the future.
When Raindance launched in 1993, promotion was done via traditional channels: newspaper advertisements and printed leaflets. Films were only shown on prints (35mm and 16mm). Needless to say, all of this was incredibly costly. “Today we do none of that,” says Grove, continuing with, “All the screenings are electronic, and we rely on our social media to get the word out about the festival.”
Of course it wasn’t just festivals that changed with technology, new filmmakers emerged during the “digital revolution.” Grove says, “The new technologies democratized filmmaking meaning anyone could shoot and edit movies.“
“It’s only natural that people watch movies on their tablets and cells. Filmmakers who ignore this fact will do so at their peril, and are, in my opinion, ultimately doomed.”
So did the concept of “independent filmmaking” also change? In the ‘90s, when independent films were swiftly moving into the mainstream more often, I would hear the debate of what is independent? It almost became it’s own genre (or marketing label) with a lot of finger pointing by people saying so-and-so film really isn’t a true indie or that film is more indie than that film, etc. etc.
When asked about how he felt about the concept of independent filmmaking, Grove began with, “The word ‘independent filmmaking’ is a misnomer because filmmaking is a collaborative art form, and filmmakers are dependent on screenwriters, actors, directors, actors, editors and so on. But we use the term ‘independent’to distinguish ourselves from the Hollywood moguls. And that in itself is a strange thing.”
Um, okay? …
“Let me explain,” Grove continued, “My daughter is a ballerina. I am a proud father. Yet we would never call her an ‘independent ballerina ’because we assume she and her company are independent. So, back to Hollywood, distribution and production houses like the Weinsteins and co, having seen what a sexy name ‘independent film’ is, they start calling films by big names ‘independent’ and they don’t really care who made it, what the budgets are as long as they get enough bums on seats.”
Grove goes on to say that things have gotten even more complicated. He adds, “But to answer your question another way: the struggle independent filmmakers have always had is how to compete with the big budget films and get an audience. As we become ever globalized and the big studios and networks become ever more powerful, the challenges filmmakers today need to face have become ever steeper.”
As the landscape for both the creative community and market side continually shift, Raindance has evolved to be more than just a film festival. Though the film festival remains its signature event, the umbrella organization has branched out over the years to include the British Independent Film Awards, Training Courses, a Web Fest and most recently, a VOD releasing division.
Looking from the outside, it would seem that’s a lot for one organization to handle. But on the other hand, it’s almost a one-stop shop for creators. Grove explains that, “Raindance has grown organically. Raindance has acted, if you like, as an incubator allowing all these wonderful ideas and new initiatives to develop and in some cases flourish.” And it doesn’t end there. “New on the near horizon is an investment club aiming to create an investment pool for film production, as well as a unique ‘dating’ service between screenwriters and producers.”
But it all started with the film festival. This year’s 22nd edition boasts an extensive international line-up and takes a unique approach on how to divide up the program. “This year we decided to cut against the typical festival strand definitions of horror, thriller etc. and chose instead to categorize the films by mood,” said Grove, “For this we chose to label films by season: spring, summer, autumn and winter –hopefully to give film lovers an additional and fresh way to navigate the 100+ features and 150+ shorts.”
Concurrently, the 2nd Raindance Web Fest will take place as well. Instead of films, fresh web series will be screened. You may ask what web series are doing in a film festival (or in association with one at least). But just as the line between feature filmmaking and television has blurred with major talent seamlessly switching between the two mediums, the same can be said for what is happening online. Before, you either worked in films or television, but rarely would you see someone do both if they were of a certain caliber. Simply put, if you did television, you were a sell-out or you were in career purgatory. We all know that isn’t the case now. And now the stigma has shaken off for doing projects exclusively for the web.
There is still a lot of growth and questions with online specific content, though in terms of the creators, all this can be a good thing. When asked if there is a clear line between a filmmaker and a web series creator, Grove said, “My filmmaking colleagues have much to learn from the new, bold fresh and innovative work being creating for the web. Not only can filmmakers learn from the story lines and structure of, for example, web series, but filmmakers need to learn about how these ‘web content creators’market their films and interact with their audiences.” It’s a two-way street though, as he added, “Conversely, web film makers have much to gain by studying the filmmaking techniques used by so-called traditional filmmakers.”
Maybe that last sentiment applies to current filmmakers who think of viewing a film outside the cinema in the same way people used to look at those who worked in television. “Mobile devices are the way forward. The Raindance.org website, for example has nearly half it’s visitors coming from cellphones and tablets. That’s a really hefty chunk of our 10,000 average visitors a day,” Grove states and goes to say, “It’s only natural that people watch movies on their tablets and cells. Filmmakers who ignore this fact will do so at their peril, and are, in my opinion, ultimately doomed.”
That’s a pretty bold statement, and for sure many will disagree. On one side, watching a film in the theater is an experience that cannot be replicated (there’s a whole debate on that too but I’m not even going to go there). On the other, viewer habits have changed dramatically. Would everyone agree that all films should be in theaters? Probably not. Would everyone agree that all films are fine to watch on a mobile device? Also probably not. As Grove mentions, each side has something to learn from the other.
No matter which side you are on or which format you work in, Grove offers this advice to aspiring creators: Never ever give up. Make sure your script is really really good. And always wear really comfortable shoes –you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
#VOFF is the Closing Night Partner of the 22nd Raindance Film Festival, September 24 to October 5. Before the screening of the Closing Night Gala of Jim Taihuttu’s Wolf on October 5, we will announce the winners of #VOFF 3.
You can win a trip to London and join us at Raindance. Just go to viewster.com, watch a #VOFF 3 entry and tweet about it. More info on the site.
If you’re in London on October 5, you can join us for the Closing Night Gala After-Party to celebrate Raindance, Wolf and the #VOFF 3 winners by entering this sweepstakes.
Go here to get tickets or passes to the Raindance Film Festival.