The Raindance movement

by Christopher Heard

When one hears or read the term “independent cinema” it is interpreted–depending on the person and their frame of reference–in any number of ways. Back in the late 60s the term was applied to movies that were still made in the Hollywood system but contain counterculture ideas and were made by people both behind and in front of the camera that flew in the face of the traditional Hollywood methodology.

In 1994 independent cinema was revised again by Quentin Tarantino and the Weinstein brothers with Pulp Fiction – the term then signified making films entirely outside the mainstream Hollywood system. But that too was subverted by the enormous profits some of these films made which caused the studio to encroach on the territory, buy it up, and thus become the controlling entities behind these free thinking, ‘independent’ filmmakers.

For a country like Canada virtually everything done cinematically is independent because there is not the infrastructure and system established to break away from. But movies are a significant way by which a society expresses itself and defines itself which is why there are always talented storytellers out there yearning to create these collection of moments that hold an unfettered mirror up to our culture and our times, and it was in that spirit that a fascinating independent cinema movement called Raindance was created some twenty years ago by a headstrong and talented Canadian filmmaker named Elliot Grove (while he started the movement in London, England it has spread out worldwide) who wanted to prove that, with no experience and a little as $500 or less, a decent, interesting, thoughtful and relevant movie could be made.

What makes this Raindance movement vital is the fact that it is not-for-profit and exists to help passionate committed people turn their passion into momentum by connecting them with other industry professionals to gain knowledge, hone skills, and very importantly establish industry contacts. Raindance chapters provide a kind of haven for filmmakers to gather and exchange ideas and hold events with industry professionals giving talks and seminars, and generally just a place for inspiration and knowledge and skills to be exchanged and enthused over.

Tiska Weiderman, who is the Creative Director of the Toronto chapter of Raindance points out, “The rise of digital shooting formats and the birth of Facebook and social media platforms has forever changed and flattened the playing field. It used to be that you had to go to UCLA or move to Hollywood to even attempt a filmmaking career – now you can point, shoot and narrate on your DSLR or iPhone to create a feature length, cinema quality film.”

Part of what Raindance does is provide a place, a location, for the inexperienced filmmaker that might have the passion and the drive and the talent but not that slight spark of professional encouragement that provides the need to get things truly going. It is one thing to read about someone like Tarantino beating a set of odds, it is another thing to be in a room with a bunch of filmmakers who have done it and discuss how it is possible over coffee.

Tiska Wiedermann reminded me that, “Malik Bendjelloul, who directed the documentary Searching for Sugarman, that won the Oscar, was shot, in part, on an iPhone using a $1.99 app because he ran out of money.” And that is the kind of non-limit, non-conformist thinking that forms the basis of the Raindance philosophy.

Toronto though has the advantages of being a movie mecca–big movies are shot here, we are home to arguably the best film festival on earth and many well known actors who have established themselves in Hollywood are from here and still have strong connections here–but what of small communities that also have talented people with dreams of being part of this kind of art and industry–Raindance caters importantly to them as well.

One of the newest chapters of Raindance was established in Windsor to serve the Windsor-Essex area and bridge the narrow divide between that community and the artistic community in Detroit. Raindance Windsor-Detroit was established in early 2012 by Marianne Janey (along with Jeff Nadalin, Amanda Gellman, Rhys Trenhaile, Kathryn McDermott and Shah Batroukh). The Windsor chapter has provided a centre of a community to talented people to get together, hold events with industry professionals to educate young filmmakers and as Marianne Janey pointed out to me, “something important we are in the midst of is a fundraising effort for the renovation and enhancement of the Windsor Centre for Film, Digital Media and the Creative Arts which we hope will become the hub for the local film and television industry in Windsor.”

As can be seen with larger cities like Toronto and Montreal, film and television can turn in to profitable industries that benefit those in the community far beyond just the filmmakers themselves and that is the importance of these smaller community Raindance chapters, getting that message across – “The people in Windsor were very supportive of a feature film called The Birder we shot in Windsor – they were very open to the idea of showcasing their community in this way. But what the experience of shooting that feature pointed out was the need for equipment and qualified, skilled crew members in the area – those things come by making more and more films in the region, which Raindance encourages and supports any way we can.”

Raindance also has its own Raindance Film Festival which some say is one of the top five film festivals out there in terms of giving exposure to new and fresh talent.

The new digital technology has made making films infinitely easier, it is true, but because film is such a collaborative process they are by their very nature a communal effort, each and every one of them. What a movement like Raindance does so effectively is prove that it is not money that decides who does this stuff, it is not where you were born or where you find yourself, it is all a matter of drive, desire and commitment–with those things all pulled together and shot forth by the right kind of support and encouragement–Raindance is that dose of encouragement and inspiration that just might give rise to the next Quentin Tarantino.

Photo courtesy of Raindance Canada.

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