Wednesday, March 6, 2013

QWFF 2013 Day 1: The old neighborhood

**600th POST**

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

So QWFF began a little differently for me this year. I arrived at the Museum of the Moving Image sooner than expected, even though it was around a quarter after seven. The front door was closed, so I, along with a couple of other media types, went in through the side, which led to a lot of standing around waiting for the ticket-holders to be admitted. Last year I entered with the ticket-holders, having little idea what to expect and knowing no one. This year, I was greeted by QWFF head honchos Don and Katha Cato, who had my press badge ready for me; plus, my friend Cat was one of the volunteers (hi Cat!), so I got to talk to her while we were all waiting for the doors to open.

The Museum of the Moving Image,
the site for QWFF's opening night
Film festivals are still a relatively new experience for me, but one thing about QWFF that I really dig is how comfortable it's beginning to feel. As I told someone at the after-party (I think it was Cat), my limited experience of film fests is that it's not unlike a comics convention: hobnobbing with the talent, checking out their work, and partying afterwards. And as I'm becoming more familiar with QWFF, the way it's set up, and the people associated with it, I find it's a good fit. 

The fact that it's in Queens, my home borough, certainly helps. Last year, I talked at length about the neighborhoods hosting QWFF and what they meant to me growing up. Everyone regards Brooklyn as the hip, hot, happening borough now - for better and for worse - but part of me kinda hopes Queens never gets the same kind of media overexposure. (Seriously, the mass commercialization of Brooklyn, as well as its wider implications, is something you can't fully understand unless you live in New York.) It's far from perfect, but those of us who live here know what it has to offer and love it for that.

Jimmy van Bramer
A lot of that love was on display at last night's QWFF grand opening. In addition to the Katos, who hosted the affair, there were guest appearances by reps from sponsor Amalgamated Bank and the Mayor's Office of Film and Television, as well as local Councilman Jimmy van Bramer, one of the recipients of the Spirit of Queens Award. As chair of the city's Cultural Affairs Committee (along with last year's recipient, Councilman Daniel Dromm, who was also in attendance), he's a major supporter of the arts. 

Another Spirit of Queens winner was actress Karen Black, who you may remember from such films as Five Easy Pieces, Easy Rider and Nashville, among others. She's had a huge career, spanning over fifty years, with a large chunk of it spent in independent films (including one directed by Don Cato himself!). She wasn't able to make it in person, but she sent a thank-you video.

Karen Black
And of course, there were films, a sampling of the fare offered by QWFF this year:

- Heads Up. A Tarantino-esque piece in which a poker game goes seriously awry and tests the friendship of a couple of seedy crooks. Liked this one a lot. The dialogue was a little bit on the precious and self-aware side, but the actors sold it well.

- Lonely Eros. A ridiculously-brief (less than a minute) vignette from Belgium of a suicidal teddy bear. Not sure what the point of this was...

- The Tits On an Eighteen-Year-Old. The title alone should tell you what to expect here. Shot on an iPhone in Italy.

- Planet Utero. Trippy computer-animated piece. Don't expect Pixar-level work here, but for what it is, it's worth watching, and the music fits the sci-fi premise (something about a renegade clone).

- At the Formal. Awesome Kubrickian piece from Australia about the world's creepiest backyard party. It begins with an amazing slow-motion, single-take tracking shot that weaves in and out of the party with a masterful fluidity and sense of timing.

- UH LA LA. A homeless (?) Spanish couple dream of going to Paris. This one kinda grows on you. In the end, I found it sweet. These social misfits clearly love each other.

- Pollicino. Remarkable Italian film about an Alzheimer's victim with no long-term memory and how he has to make his way in the world. Left me wanting more!

Katha & Don Cato,
from last year's QWFF
The after-party was at a nearby bar and grill, which set up a room in the back for everyone. I went there with this girl named Jules, one of the exhibiting filmmakers, whom I met at MOMI (apparently she recognized me from when I worked at Kim's Video in the city). She introduced me to some of her friends, we talked about film festivals and movies in general (she's got a thing for Michael Haneke). Her film plays Saturday afternoon.

At the bar I asked for a beer and got this HUGE stein that you have to hold with two hands. Apparently, according to the bartender, this was their equivalent of a two-drink minimum. No, I couldn't get any other size. Seven bucks and it took me all night to even knock off half of it! I could tell Cat was amused by me sitting with this mini-keg in front of me and babbling half the time. I was glad I went, though. Even got to speak to Katha Cato for a few minutes. Now if only I didn't have a sore throat...

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