From Amish to A-List: The Story of Raindance’s Elliot Grove

You wouldn’t want to be caught in a movie theatre when Jesus comes back, would you?” I was born into an Amish Mennonite family in Ontario and I was forbidden to go to the movie theatre because ‘the devil lived there’.

One hot August day, I was sent to the local village to buy a part we needed on the farm. It was going to be a three-hour wait, and given that it was a sunny afternoon I did what every 16-year-old does with a few coins in their pocket I went to see what the devil looked like.

I paid 99 cents and walked into a room that looked a lot like a church with chairs lined up to face the front. Remember – I had no idea what a movie was – I had been told never to go to the movies. After sitting down, the lights went out, the curtains opened and the first face of the devil I saw at the tender age of 16 was Lassie Comes Home. I cried like a baby and when it finished, ran up to touch the screen to see if I could feel the texture of his fur. I was totally hooked!

Years later, I found myself in London at a loose end. I had lost everything in the 1991 property crash and was feeling down. An elderly friend saw me moping around and told me “no doctor in the world can cure you as long as you are feeling sorry for yourself Elliot Grove.” I sought his advice and he said, “Do what you love”

I had absolutely no film training, background or any sense of the entertainment industry but I loved movies. Lassie Comes Home had made an impact. With this in mind, I started Raindance, essentially as a thought experiment. Can you make movies without any experience, any training or any money? A whole bunch of people at that time were making movies for next-to-nothing. Screenwriters, directors, producers and actors – Paul Brooks (Producer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding) came to early events as did producer Jeremy Bolt (Resident Evil). Edgar Wright was my first intern – he made Fistful of Fingers. Chris Nolan made The Following…A lot of micro budget films that had yet to achieve the same level of critical or financial success.

Raindance became a good case study of what happens to a disruptor, an early success followed by industry distain, a long period of struggles for financial stability and acceptance. Then, a final period where new disruptors emerge to challenge the establishment.

Perhaps the fact I had no training or experience had helped me. It has forced me to become an early adopter and innovator and this has made Raindance unique in the festival world where so many have failed.

I figured that in order for a film festival to succeed you needed two things: talent and money. I knew there were a lot of international industry types in London on the third week of October – the week between MIP-TV and a now defunct film market MIFED. I sited Raindance in October knowing the film executives wouldn’t be able to resist screenings of some brand-new films. My next challenge was to get the talent.

Twenty-five years is a very long time for a film festival to survive. When I started Raindance one pretty much needed a million. All films then was shot 35mm, went to cinemas, then home video and after that track investors would have a decent chance of recouping.

Since then, there has been the digital revolution impacting not only film production but distribution as well.

One thing remains and it will never change. People ask me what kinds of films make it into the Raindance Film Festival. It’s simple; an extreme story or topic, extreme filmmaking techniques and because story is everything at Raindance – it has to be extremely good.

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