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netribution > features > interview with elliot grove

On descending into the Raindance film festival headquarters, situated practically beneath London's Berwick Street, I felt that flushed awkwardness akin to treading on a disgustingly expensive, 700 year old Iranian carpet. Perhaps I'm confusing you though. There was nothing opulent about the sight before me, this war room was starved, indeed dismissive of natural light and was festooned with priceless festival related bumpf acting as supporting pillars for an unnaturally low ceiling. Aware of my gauche tendencies amid such an environment I awaited my summoning with a timid grin disguising awe at the furious din, flashing LED's and controlled imbroglio of activity. Yes, I felt like a clumsy flunky delivering an unbalanced tray of scalding tea to Churchill, along with his childhood mug, on the eve of D-Day.
I was due to meet Elliot Grove, founder and head of the Raindance film festival that doubles up as, and is almost entirely funded by, a vast selection of some of the best film related courses in the country. I've found that interviews are best conducted in a neutral location, preferably with good coffee and welcoming sofas but Elliot, the Lord of Bedlam, was plainly in no position to abandon his guerrillas for even a moment. Indeed, throughout the interview he would continually command these loyal troops whilst keeping apace of my largely arbitrary line of questioning.

| by tom fogg
tom fogg
| in london

In the short space of time before my ears started bleeding from anxiety in this inhibiting space, I wondered what sort of mettle was required to run an operation like this. What sort of training did Elliot undertake? "I'm a farm boy, I'm totally untrained and I didn't go to film school. I come from an Amish community just outside Toronto. I wasn't aloud to see movies and one day when I was 16 I was sent to town to get a machine part welded. The blacksmith told me that it would take three hours to fix so there was no point in going home and coming back. I was walking up the high street of this little village and I see the cinema, I was told the devil lived there so I paid my 99 cents to see what the devil looked like -it was Lassie Comes Home."

Obviously terrifying enough for any youth but how does one get from a farm to a bunker of delirium like this? "I'd had no idea of the technology of cinema and I was totally hooked so I came over here and worked at the BBC as a stage hand for about a year and a half. I then went back to Canada and worked as a scenic artist/set designer - I've got about 68 feature credits and about 700 commercial credits. I came back here in 1986 and bummed around for a couple of years and in 1992 I started Raindance. Everything I know about film I've either learned from doing or watching being done."

I now recall my family's reaction to their naïve son's decision to tend bars for a career - near hysteria. "Well my Mum didn't speak to me for 15 years but now she thinks it's cool. (laughs)"

I was also keen to learn of the history of this festival that, in my circles has been seen as a successful renegade, "Well the festival is sited before the Pre-Mifed London Screenings week. Something we did intentionally in order to attract the acquisition executives and it's grown exponentially. We were very small in the first year, we only had about 30 features and 50 shorts where last year we had 1400 films submitted to us - 1100 shorts and 300 features and we can only show about a quarter of them. We are getting work from some very influential producers, sales agents and distributors."

Very cunning indeed, the centre of the film market - were it to have one - would probably be the Metro cinema on Rupert street that screens so many of the Raindance films. But has it worked? "To give you an idea, last year we had 600 acquisition executives here and Edinburgh only got about 85."

He went on to state his reasons for starting the festival but interestingly, it took some time to convince the British filmmakers. "If you made a film in 1992 and you were British, there weren't any showcases for British film so late that year we decided to launch Raindance - the first festival was in October 1993. Of course, not many of the British filmmakers got it, it was mainly Americans and the British have started to come through in the last couple of years."

Throughout my 'experience' in the basement I had armfuls of pamphlets, brochures, training guides and other such tastefully designed literature thrust at me. The training 'booklet' was as thick as my arm. "We started out in 1992 with a few courses and we brought over Dov Simens." The booklet quotes Orson Welles as saying '"Everything you need to know about filmmaking can be learnt in three days.' Dov does it in two." Apparently, Spike Lee, Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez based their first successes on information from Dov S-S Simens. " We now have around 30 different courses that run on weekends and weekday evenings. Everything from writing, legal lab, we are doing also Cannes survival guide, about 4000 people a year take courses with us. Its how we survive."

Then I noticed that, as well as leading this squad of die hards, Elliot teaches some of these courses too. " I don't know anything about screenwriting although I come from this very weird farming community where we had a strong, oral storytelling community, what with the bible storytelling we went through as kids at Sunday school. I started working with writers in 1994 and somehow had a knack of how to put their scripts and stories together and I've now worked with an awful lot of writers. I also wrote a book for Focal Press called Write and Sell The Perfect Script, that's coming out in the next couple of months."

I was staring to get a grasp of how an atmosphere like the frenzy around my head could have materialised, but what of the competition from the larger festivals " It will be interesting to see what happens to Raindance after the British Short film festival bit the dust last week. Raindance is totally self financed, we are all filmmakers, we all work for a pittance and unfortunately - for reasons totally beyond my understanding - we don't get any government support." I could have blown my two-penny trumpet at that point were it not for the blare of yet another potential festival film, hastily quietened by Elliot.

Now who were these new people striding about with such purpose? " We've seven full timers and six interns at the moment but during festival week that grows to 15 full time and about 100 volunteers. We are just launching a production company and we're taking a slate of films that we've put together down to Cannes."

How long has that little number been brewing I wonder? I finally understood what was going on here. A brave, nine to fivers would say foolish, man of passion leading a band of young and seasoned filmmakers through the land of graft and creativity to the pastures of successful independence beyond. You run film courses, make films (Elliot's last was a 35mm feature called Table 5 made for £278.35in total), run the UK's largest and most exciting independent film festival with the filmmakers themselves - a profitable production company seals the empire.

But it's all indie!

Raindance Film Festival
81 Berwick Street
Tel: (44) 207 287 3833

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