"Groove's" Greg Harrison Raves To Success
by Aaron Dalton
First-time director Greg Harrison wrote a movie about a San Francisco rave. No one wanted to fund it. He and producer Danielle Renfrew persisted, found the money and made the movie their way. The result, “Groove,” was a smash hit at Sundance, got picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, and has been generating unstoppable word-of-mouth ever since. The film features a cast of stellar unknowns, including the acting debut of renowned UK DJ, John Digweed, who plays himself and forecasts an impending triumph of rave-dom here in the U.S. “No one film could accurately capture the whole scene,” says Digweed. “This is the first film from America to do a good job. There will be other films after this. The scene is sweeping America.”
Harrison talked with indieWIRE about eye-contact, sleep deprivation and the “human center” of the rave scene. “Groove” has its U.S. premiere Thursday night in San Francisco, followed by releases in New York, Los Angeles and other cities across the country.
indieWIRE: What do you think is the hardest thing about making a movie about the rave scene?
Greg Harrison: Translating the scene into a viable film had not yet been done authentically. The problem with making a movie about a rave is that a rave is non-intellectual and non-verbal, often made up of vignette experiences. It’s about being in the moment, about a brief interaction with a stranger, about spontaneity. You can have compelling experiences at a rave, but the challenge is to translate these experiences into film language. Can you create a universal humanistic center that gives the audience access to the story regardless of whether they are in the scene or not?
iW: You mentioned that a rave is often made up of vignettes, crafted in some sense by the guiding hand of the DJ. This film could also be characterized as a vignette movie, guided by the director. Can you comment on the similarities between the role a director plays in a film and the role a DJ plays at a rave?
Harrison: My entry into the rave scene was through the music. I just had an epiphany when I went to go see a really skilled DJ spin. I realized that he was like a live editor. I had worked as a film editor — working with the dailies, the raw footage, thinking about the dramatic arc of the bigger story. A DJ is also collecting pieces of music to juxtapose. They think like an editor — the thrill is that they craft a moment-to-moment emotional experience, that they can adjust the set according to the atmosphere of the room. Their sense of drama is impeccable. The difference between a film and a rave of course is that a rave is inherently participatory. A DJ needs the crowd as much as the crowd needs the DJ.
iW: If you wanted to make a film about the rave scene, why write it as a dramatic story rather than a documentary, especially since your producer, Danielle Renfrew, had experience making documentary film? [“Better Living Through Circuitry,” now in release, takes the documentary route.]
Harrison: Techno music and raving, perhaps because of their inherently participatory nature, cut through intellectualism. A rave is what it is. For that reason, a dramatic structure was better than a documentary structure, which involves ‘talking’ about an experience. If you go to a rave, you’ll see that there is something everyone there knows but can’t say. There are smiles, eye-contact [among the ravers]. This is a form of communication. It is a basic, non-verbal, non-intellectual form of communication.
iW: Do you think this ability for ravers to engage in non-verbal communication contributes to the multi-cultural nature of the rave experience?
Harrison: There is a clich