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The 2017 Raindance Film Festival has given out its awards and is now over.
12 days of under the radar films ― some which will never be distributed, others which should grace our screens sometime in the next year or two. I attended for several of those 12 days and had a festival experience unique to any I’ve had before: each film was a journey of discovery. Some were very bad. Some were very good. Perhaps none I would have seen otherwise. I’ve chosen six of those I saw that are worth discovering for yourself.
I Still Hide to Smoke
I Still Hide to Smoke was a worthy winner of the Raindance Discovery Award. The prize was a grant of money to director Rayhana for post-production on her next project ― and whatever it is it’ll be worth keeping an eye on. Her debut I Still Hide to Smoke is set almost entirely in a single location: a hammam in 1995 Algiers, in which a large group of Muslim women gather to bathe, talk and seek refuge. Outside there is a constant threat of rape and violence, but in the hammam they are able to let themselves be free ― the film is unapologetic both in its unfussy nudity and its freeform lack of plot. Rayhana shows an incredible ability to orchestrate large groups of actors, and commendable daring for telling a story for which she has received violent threats since the release of the play on which it is based.
Maya Dardel was the most precisely crafted film I saw at Raindance. Directors Magdalena Zyak and Zachary Cotler shoot and edit it with an eye for detail and a feel for cinematic rhythm. Their film is difficult: the first 30 minutes are rapturously sharp and almost perfect. It loses focus off itself from then on, but it’s a fascinating mess, topped off by a captivating lead turn by Lena Olin as the titular Maya Dardel, an acclaimed writer who announces her own suicide on the radio.
The Misandrists is not a good film… I think. It left me completely baffled. There are no words to describe the feeling of watching it, but I’ll try: it’s like if Pedro Almodovar did a ton of coke and directed a porn parody of The Beguiled. In fact, director Bruce La Bruce has confirmed that his film is a loose remake of the 1971 Don Siegel film. The Misandrists is at turns boringly obvious and delightfully insane. It’s weird. Very weird. It’s something to behold.
Oh Lucy! opened Raindance, starting off trends that would continue for the rest of the festival: the dominance of female filmmakers and stories not often given prominence on larger platforms. Atsuko Hirayanagi directs actress Shinobu Terajima as Setsuko, a woman stuck in a dull Tokyo office job. As a character study, it is hilarious and perceptive, also allowing for a middle aged woman to be multi-faceted and flawed in a way we see all too little. Josh Hartnett shows up as Setsuko’s unconventional English teacher, and her pining after him is treated with more level-headedness than the similar dynamic in recent film Hello, My Name is Doris.
Jenny Lu’s film The Receptionist was the best thing that I saw at Raindance 2017. It left the audience in a state of hush: overcome by the sense of discovery that comes with finally seeing underrepresented voices tell their own stories on screen. The film follows a Taiwanese graduate living in London who gets a receptionist job in a brothel for Asian women. The women Lu depicts are realised on screen with compassion and respect. It is a film about people who sell their bodies which understands that that is not the most interesting thing about them. The Receptionist does not linger on sex or violence, instead focusing on the women laughing, dancing, worrying, eating, being bored… and talking to each other.
One of the first films to directly tackle the Trump presidency, Laura Plancarte’s Siblings is unapologetically political. The documentary places side by side the opposing stories of two Mexican brothers who have been deported from the US, and a Trump voting American woman named Vanessa. Plancarte cuts between the two in order to directly juxtapose their actions and ideals, often capturing footage of them engaging with the same things in different ways: one scene sees both subjects watching the same Trump speech on TV. The ideas the film presents are vital and worth discussing. It’s a fascinating film.