Saturday, March 3, 2012

QWFF Day 2: What's up, doc?

The Queens World Film Festival is a four-day event which showcases films from around the world at venues within the New York City borough of Queens. Throughout this weekend, I'll write about select films from the show, as well as highlights from the presentation. For more information about the festival, visit the website.

I've written about my earliest memories of Jackson Heights and the theaters I frequented, those that are long gone and those that remain. 37th Avenue is a busy commercial stretch that I never explored in any great depth as a kid; not sure why. I suppose I preferred my little chunk of 82nd Street, and why not - it had two theaters, a Woolworth, and I think it had a bookstore too. It also had the music studio where I used to go for guitar lessons (they never took). I appreciate 37th Avenue better now, though - it's got a nice wide selection of places to eat, most of it local. 

It's also one of the primary conduits between the three locales for QWFF, and once I discovered that they were all well within walking distance of each other, that made my life easier. There's P.S. 69, a grade school, where the movies are screened in the auditorium. There's the Renaissance Charter School, a fancy school a few blocks east. Finally, a couple of blocks south and east, there's the Jackson Heights Cinema, and last night I hit all three venues for a night of mostly documentaries. (Since QWFF screens their films in small groups, my reviews will be the same way.)

P.S. 69

After an early Chinese dinner, P.S. 69 was first. The Dream of the Zebra Fish is a Spanish-language fictional short about a woman distraught over the untimely death of her husband and chooses an unusual method of coping with her grief. I didn't like this one; I thought it was too bogged down with the woman's odd frame of mind and her obsession with fish, and I couldn't understand how what she ends up doing was supposed to alleviate her pain.

I thought Funeral Season was gonna be a horror movie (the brief description in the program book didn't offer any clues), so imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a feature-length doc about funereal rites and customs in the African nation of Cameroon. It wasn't bad. The French-accented English was a bit hard to follow in places (when there weren't subtitles), but I muddled through. The Canadian director's narration voice was dull, but I liked how he contrasted the things he documented with his own Jewish upbringing.

The Renaissance Charter School

This was the early film block, and I was one of only perhaps a half dozen people in the entire auditorium. The seats were hard and uncomfortable, at least for me; I kept fidgeting throughout Season. On the bright side, I had a brief but nice chat with the projectionist, a filmmaker whose worked screened at QWFF last year and volunteered her services this year.

Next I moved on to the RCS, which I almost couldn't find at first (went the wrong way down the street). This spot had a lot more people in the audience. The screening was in a rec room of some sort and the seats were much more comfortable. This was the all-documentary block of the fest. Some of the filmmakers were present and they took a few questions afterwards.

Filmmakers from the documentary block at the RCS

Long Island City Boating: Moonlight Voyage was basically a promo for a kayak boating service along the East River offered by the city. Out From School was a wordless vignette of parents picking up their kids from school. By Hook or By Crook was about a duo of no-budget directors and the lengths they go to get their films made. 

Day at the Pool was a pleasant surprise that kinda snuck up on me. It's about old-school skateboarders in California - like as far back as the 70s - and one in particular that grew into something of an urban legend, spoken of with equal parts reverence and disdain. Mainly it was the colorful interviewees and the story of the legendary skater - and the amazing trick he allegedly could do - that pulled me in after I initially thought this wouldn't interest me.

When I first saw the title If These Knishes Could Talk: The Story of the New York Accent, I knew for a certainty I had to see this movie. New Yorkers of many ethnicities, from many walks of life, young and old, speak about how the way they talk shapes how they interact with the world, and how it interacts with them. Lots of funny stories, lots of surprises.

This movie made me think of the warehouse office I used to work in, which was very much a polyglot of accents and dialects. For instance, two different supervisors were macho Italian guys, and you could hear it in their voices. We also had a gaggle of Latinas who would speak rapid-fire Spanish to each other often; a bunch of young sistas whose voices were purely inner-city; older black women whose voices suggested small-town country; even a Caribbean or two.

The Jackson Heights Cinema, w/QWFF and Troma banners

But there were two women in particular whose dialects I found most distinctive. One, Jennifer, looked like a young white girl from Staten Island, maybe, or Nassau County, until she opened her mouth, and suddenly she was a total ghetto hoodrat. It was uncanny; if you closed your eyes, you'd swear she was a black girl from the projects - and yes, I know I'm dealing in stereotypes here - but she was as white as Eminem.

At the other extreme you had Fran, an older woman, perhaps in her 60s, and hearing her speak was like taking a trip back in time to the land of streetcars, egg creams and Ebbets Field. Fran had the thickest, most old-school Brooklyn accent I've ever heard. I used to sit next to her for awhile and we would chat fairly often, and I'd always try and get her to tell stories about growing up in Brooklyn just so I could hear her talk with that incredible voice from another era. She said she saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium, among other things (and yes, it really was that loud). 

Knishes also made me think of myself, and how I've sometimes had to take crap from people who thought I talk like a white guy. I can slip into a stereotypical street vernacular as easily as I can slip into a stereotypical Noo Yawk dialect, but most of the time, the way I write is the way I talk and I make no apologies for it. Regardless, this was a wonderful film.

Lloyd Kaufman, w/QWFF's Katha Cato

Finally, I booked on over to the Jackson for the Troma "heavy metal musical" Mr. Bricks. Imagine Sin City as written by Vince McMahon and you'll get some idea of this waste of celluloid (or should that be pixels?). Listen, I give Lloyd Kaufman and Troma all the credit in the world for lasting as long as they have in the film industry, making the movies they want to make and building a cult following in the process. It's a remarkable achievement by any measure, and they deserve the accolades QWFF has bestowed on them for that alone.

But Kaufman has some nerve putting down The Artist while applying his name to a movie as horrible as this. The songs are uninspired and no one in the cast can sing them (though I suppose one could argue that they're meant to be screamed, not sung), the story makes little sense as anything other than a sadomasochistic romp, and someone needs to remind the director that haphazardly-handheld camerawork and constant focusing and re-focusing doesn't make a film look "artistic" or "edgy" looking. It just looks sloppy. As heavy metal musicals go, this is no Operation: Mindcrime.

QWFF Day 1: Things to come


  1. I need to know what you think of Mr. Bricks in comparison to actual wacky violent MOVIE musicals such as Phantom Of The Paradise, Population: Zero and Repo! The Genetic Opera.

    I'm sure it sucks because I could barely stomach the trailer which looks like a trailer for a fanmade film in the 80's shot on something even weaker than quality consumer digital video.

    I just more wanted to throw you some films to clean your mind of Bricks in the same genre if you haven't seen them.

    Some of those docs sound interesting, although I wonder what kind of availability they'll have outside of a the film festival circuit.

  2. As I've never seen any of those movies, I can't say how they compare to 'Mr. Bricks,' though I am a bit curious about 'Phantom.'

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  4. This is the director of Mr. Bricks. I'm sorry you didn't like the movie, we shot it with what we had, we just wanted to make a movie and show our love of 80s/90s punk hardcore music. We used the locations of Long Island City as a back-drop and went from there. It's what you do when you have passion to make a movie and not just sit on your ass. Again, sorry you feel like Mr. Kaufman and I wasted your time, ironically I ended up winning "Best Director" for Bricks at the QWFF, that's the great thing about low budget movies and art. It's totally subjective.

  5. Wow, I have never seen Mr Bricks and now I never will. Part of being a film maker is accepting the fact that not everyone is going to like your movie. Instead of making excuses for your film, you should try and learn from the criticism. Congratulations on your award, maybe you should run crying to Mr Kaufman and ask him to get you another one so you feel better. I would also like to give this director the Golden Diaper award for being such a baby. Clap, clap.


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