Wednesday, March 5, 2014

QWFF Day 1: Love is in the air

To know the Queens World Film Festival (QWFF) is to know Don & Katha Cato. It's as simple as that. I've been to other film festivals, and before that, when I wrote a comics blog, I had been to comics conventions, and in both cases, one could see great respect and admiration expressed for the administrators who put these shows together, but I can't say for a certainty that I'd ever seen love, in quite the same measure, as I have seen, and continue to see, for Don & Katha.

It's not even like they've been at this for that long a time. This is only the fourth year of the festival, but in that time, they've built up a constituency in support of their show that starts in their home neighborhood of Jackson Heights and radiates outward to encompass all of Queens and beyond. And why? Because movies are their raison d'etre. You only have to hear them speak, especially Katha, to see what this means to them and just how much.

Don's the one in the glasses; Katha's right next to him.
And it's not just about movies, it's about Queens: filmmakers from Queens, films set in Queens, films shown in Queens. The "world" in Queens World Film Festival means that they get movies from all over the globe, but it also alludes to the great multiculturalism that this borough embraces. You've probably heard a great deal of hype in recent years about Brooklyn as hipster central in New York, how it's become almost a city unto itself and so on, but I'm here to tell you that we got a lot in Queens to be proud of too, and this film festival is one of them.

If I sound like a shill for QWFF, well, maybe I am... but it's only because I, too - a lowly film blogger who had no reason to expect any kind of personal treatment when I first contacted them in 2012 - I, too, have been made to feel as welcome by the Catos as anyone else. I'll tell you a story: several months after the 2012 show, I was invited to a dinner party by Don & Katha and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why. Did they want something from me? I couldn't possibly imagine what I could give them that bigger media outlets in New York could. I went to the party prepared for some kind of business offer.

There was no hidden agenda. They simply wanted me to come and have a good time like everyone else they invited. And I did. I made some good friends at that party, whom I've seen at every QWFF since. 

Hal Hartley, accepting the
Spirit of Queens Award
So, no, when I write about QWFF, I'm not in "objective journalist mode." For one thing, I'm not a journalist and this isn't that kind of blog, but even if it were, I still couldn't approach it that way because QWFF has come to mean a great deal to me... and that's because of Don & Katha.

Last night was opening night, held once again at the Museum of the Moving Image, and it was a sellout. Among those who spoke prior to the film screenings - and who expressed their great affection for the Catos and QWFF - included borough president Melinda Katz, local Councilmen Daniel Dromm and Jimmy van Bramer (who said he loves Katha "as much as a gay man can love a woman," to big laughs), and a representative from primary sponsor Investors Bank. 

Don & Katha were the hosts, of course, and among the festivities included special Spirit of Queens awards presented to MOMI Executive Director Carl Goodman, and filmmaker and New York (by way of Long Island) native Hal Hartley.

Five films played at MOMI last night and they were all impressive:

- My Art is Not Dead. A stop-motion animation short in the spirit of Tim Burton about an artist who would die for his art... but he'd much rather kill. The Poe-like voice-over verse and the dark, faux-Gothic-looking characters make for a creepy-fun story. Here's the home page for it.

- Shift. A visually splendid short which appears to combine stop-motion with time-lapse photography, using actors and sculptures and elaborate, artistic costumes to present an abstract, experimental narrative. Definitely never seen anything like this one before. Here's a trailer.

interior of the MOMI main theater
- Opera No. 1. A musical short from early in Hartley's career, featuring Parker Posey and the late Adrienne Shelly. Hartley also wrote the music for it. Basically, it's a funnier Xanadu. Here's the IMDB page for it.

- Heshtje. From Kosovo comes this near-wordless short in which silence means the difference between life and death for one young girl and her protector. It feels like a tiny slice of a larger narrative and it will definitely leave you wanting more once it's done. Here's the trailer.

- Recursion. My favorite of the night - and I suspect I may not be alone in that regard. Imagine the Wachowskis' version of Groundhog Day and that'll give you an idea of what this very unique time travel story is like. To talk too much about it would spoil the fun; it simply needs to be seen (and re-seen). Cleverly plotted, with outstanding editing, nice use of the Queens and Manhattan location shots, and just enough in the way of visual effects to sell you on the story. I'd argue it works best as a short film instead of a feature-length one. This is a real find. Here's the teaser trailer.

More to come throughout the week; look for additional photos on my WSW Facebook page.

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