Malaika Bova, Martyna Szmytkowska

Source: Raindance

Malaika Bova, Martyna Szmytkowska

Martyna Szmytkowska and Malaika Bova, the artistic directors of the UK’s Raindance Film Festival, have had a full-throttle year. After pulling off their first edition at the helm in October 2023, they have turned around a second festival seven months later.

The London festival opens tonight (June 19) with Tilman Singer’s Berlin thriller Cuckoo, starring Hunter Schafer, which also screens as part of the festival’s special country focus on Germany.

It will close on June 28 with the European premiere of queer rodeo title National Anthem, the debut feature from US filmmaker Luke Gilford.

The festival’s commitment to supporting fresh voices in the industry has played a big part in refining Raindance’s industry programme, based on feedback from filmmakers. The line-up ranges from a panel on sustainable film production with Bafta albert, Film London and Green Eyes production, to an intimacy co-ordination session and several talks on film funding, including a co-production session with national organisation German Films.

Szmytkowska and Bova talk to Screen about what’s in store for this year and beyond, and Raindance’s positioning on the wider festival circuit.

What are some of your personal highlights from this year’s line-up?

Martyna Szmytkowska: We are hosting a world premiere of Kathleen Is Here by actress Eva Birthistle, whose Q&A will be moderated by none other than Andrew Scott.

We successfully fought for the European premiere of Searching For Amani, coming straight from its world premiere in Tribeca. It is a profoundly touching Kenyan documentary by Nicole Gormley and Debra Aroko that follows a 13-year-old aspiring journalist as he investigates his father’s murder within the boundaries of one of Kenya’s largest wildlife conservancies.

Malaika Bova: For the first time this year the programming team has taken over part of the industry programme. The ambition is to support emerging filmmakers in accessing the UK industry and strategically providing panels about subject matters that are pivotal in making first and second films. Our colleague, Christina Papasotiriou, has been liaising with emerging filmmakers to identify their needs and has produced, what we believe, is the best industry programme so far at Raindance.

There will be dedicated panels about funding for features, documentaries and shorts including guests such as BFI Network, Doc Society, Film London and The Whickers. Sales, distribution and the marketing will be tackled by industry professionals from companies like Altitude, Lionsgate, Mister Smith, Cornerstone, Protagonist, Together Films and Curzon, to name a few.

How are you positioning Raindance on the UK and international festival circuit? Last time we spoke you described Raindance as comparable to the SXSW of the UK - how are you going to differentiate now SXSW has launched a UK edition, that will also run in June 2025?

Szmytkowska: We aim to cover indie cinema the way SXSW is capable of doing, with a similar vibe, style, and attention to audience tastes but also pushing the boundaries of innovation. However, our focus sets us apart: we cater almost exclusively to emerging filmmakers. That’s the niche we are trying to fill and that distinguishes us from any other festivals currently on the scene.

In today’s world, creating a debut film is a daunting task. Securing funding, building a supportive network, and devising an effective selling strategy are all complex challenges. While numerous initiatives across the UK and abroad provide assistance, we aim to establish a cohesive and systematic approach.

What have been the main challenges in putting this edition together - particularly with so little time since the October-November edition?

Szmytkowska: We basically haven’t had a holiday in a year. Less time for fundraising, programming, researching and marketing. We had to reduce the number of screenings, but this has allowed us to be extremely focused on each event. We hope the results will be even better than last year.

What were your main learnings from the first festival as artistic directors?

Bova: The takeaway is clear: we are on the right path. We are turning this festival into a platform that belongs to the filmmakers, it’s there for them to use. This requires a lot of energy in coordination and outreach, especially because we can’t count on many funds [funding comes predominantly from the submissions and sponsorship], but the results are worth it.

What has been the industry response to moving the festival?

Szmytkowska: When we first started in our roles as artistic directors, moving the festival dates was one of our initial ideas, to get away from the crowded autumn festival season. We did talk to a lot of members of the industry, such as festivals, film organisations, producers, directors to ask for their feedback and there was an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the idea of the move.

What we have tried to achieve with the date change is to create another spot in the calendar for the independent filmmaking community at large to enjoy the films and networking, and I think the response so far, in the run up to the festival, was very reassuring.

This doesn’t mean we will stay in June, we are still testing the waters and want to make sure we find the right spot.

Looking ahead – how would you like to evolve the festival in future editions?

Szmytkowska: As mentioned, we envision a boutique festival by and for emerging filmmakers. To turn this vision into a strong and relevant reality, there is much to be done. While we believe we are on the right path, we must continue to build industry trust, expand our network, refine our content, and strengthen our audience and community.