Thursday, March 6, 2014

QWFF Day 2: Out on the fringes

Long Island City is right up against the edge of Queens, facing the East River. For Manhattanites, it's the first stop off of the Queensborough Bridge, but for me, living all the way the hell in the southeastern part of the borough, it's as far away as you can get before you start to swim, and in recent years, I've begun to feel that distance. LIC, and Astoria to the north, are becoming the hip places to be in Queens now, and for a Kew lifer like me, I still find it hard to believe that we could ever be considered hip, especially in comparison to the gentrified Hipster Nation, otherwise known as Brooklyn.

Don't get me wrong, I like some of the changes, despite the presence of the towering skyscrapers adjacent to Queens Plaza and the recent inglorious death of graffiti mecca Five Pointz. It's just that it kinda sucks being so far away from it all. From where I sit, LIC might as well be in Manhattan, or north Brooklyn at the very least.

The Nesva Hotel
Still, that doesn't stop me from hanging out there whenever I get the urge. Much of LIC is residential, but there are small restaurants and other shops that pop up here and there, off the beaten path of main drags like Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue. For example, there's Enigma Bookstore, a genre-themed joint that recently opened to some acclaim. Along with Astoria Bookshop a little further north, Queens has finally gotten what it's needed for a long time: independent book shops. They both host lots of events - Enigma had a gathering of Star Trek novel authors months ago and I got a bunch of my books signed!

There's a sweet summer flea market that started up last year, way out in the far end of LIC, near the park. It's a bit of a walk from the subway, but well worth it - they attract local vendors from around the area and it's given me a chance to sample restaurants I might not normally frequent. They recently announced that they're gonna expand into the lot of the world famous Kaufman Astoria Studios this summer.

There are also some nice coffee shops in LIC that I frequent, although their big drawback is that they close early - around seven. Sometimes I cafe-hop between LIC and Greenpoint & Williamsburg in Brooklyn. It's easy when you can walk over the Pulaski Bridge. The bridge is scheduled to undergo some changes in which bikers will have their own lane, separate from the pedestrians, and I can't wait. There's not a lotta room for both as it is now.

Patricia Field
Anyway, all the changes to LIC have made it an attractive spot for the Queens World Film Festival (QWFF) and this year it hosts a new venue: the Nesva Hotel. When I first walked there, I saw a comparatively tall, wide looking building rising from up above the smaller residential houses. I took a picture of it before I realized that this wasn't the Nesva, it was a Holiday Inn! The Nesva was the slightly smaller, slimmer building across the street. (One wonders how they deal with the competition.) I stayed for two blocks of films last night: one, a feature length-film called The Little House That Could, a documentary; and the other a grab bag of shorter films, like most of the QWFF blocks tend to be.

House portrays the life and career of film and TV costume designer and stylist Patricia Field, of Sex and the City fame, as seen through the eyes of the many friends, co-workers and peers who worked at her Greenwich Village boutique and salon, which was also a home for many LGBT kids who needed one. Field embraced a wide variety of these people, provided they did their fair share in helping to run the boutique, of course, and a number of them went on to achieve fame in fields ranging from art to fashion to music. They became a surrogate family, with Field as the matriarch who ruled more like a patriarch.

'House' director Mars Roberge (third from left), w/friends
Director Mars Roberge does a good job of gathering testimonials from so many people and providing a voice for what has long been a disenfranchised and discriminated segment of society. The problem I had with it, though, is that as a film, House doesn't offer a wider context for those, like me, who are unfamiliar with Field and/or didn't experience the 80s and 90s from a LGBT perspective. It's too anecdotal, too much of an insider movie; after awhile, it felt a bit like listening to your grandpa telling the same stories of his glory days for the 59th time. Still, for what it is, it's a nice tribute to Field and the legacy she has left. Here's the website and here's the trailer.

Then there were the shorts. Seed Story tells the rise and fall of a miniature civilization centered around the growth of a single dandelion, using tiny figurines and created props in La Jetee-style still shots. Neat way to depict how simple ideas can be twisted and reshaped according to who's in charge... Rotkop, from Belgium, is about a bullied teen and his cancer-ridden mother. The protagonist isn't entirely sympathetic, but that's okay; that means it has gravitas without being too cliche... in Fe la Vida, from Spain, a clerical error sends a woman through a maze of bureaucracy. Couldn't tell if this was supposed to be satirical or not... An artist tries to recreate the image of the woman of his dreams, literally, in the wordless L'ombra Interior, also from Spain. Kinda surreal, yet poetic as well... and in a third Spanish short, Only Solomon Lee, a series of stolen laptops inspires a creepy loner to connect with people in disturbing ways. Very uncomfortable to watch, though in a positive way.

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