Saturday, March 9, 2013

QWFF 2013 Day 4: The women

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.

And now a little bit of burnout has begun to settle in. I've had QWFF on my mind all this week, to the exclusion of everything else, so maybe it's not all that surprising. Plus the weather, which turned out to be not so terrible. Looking out on the streets right now, you'd barely even recognize that there was a snow storm. So I'm a little worn out, but I'm still looking forward to today's schedule.

Last night I was at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, and I understand why it's called that: it's so secret I almost couldn't find it. Queens is notorious for its streets with numerous lanes and roads and drives - for instance, there may be a 65th Street, but there may also be a 65th Road, a 65th Drive, a 65th Lane, etc., and it gets annoying after awhile when the address you're trying to find is 65-08 Something Something Avenue. Similar thing here, only I got turned around trying to find where 23rd Street was in LIC. Even natives get lost now and then. And once I found 23rd Street, I almost walked past the venue. One has to go through a parking lot to get there. 

The building for the Secret Theatre
The place provided a small screening room, but it felt big on account of the sellout crowd. I wasn't even sure if I'd be able to get in for a moment, but perhaps the weather scared away a few people; I dunno.

Katha Cato was there, running around back and forth trying to maintain order. A quick word about the QWFF director: In the past, I've been responsible for similar public functions, and it's always left me stressed out beyond belief on account of my need to make sure the event runs the way I want it to run. From what I've observed of her (which, admittedly, is limited), not only does Katha manage to keep her poise, but her sense of humor as well - and she deals with much larger numbers of people than I ever have. Even throughout the hectic nature of the lead-up to the block last night, she still spared a couple of minutes for me. I don't know where she gets her energy, but she makes full use of it.

So last night's theme, on what was, I am told, International Women's Day, a block featuring women protagonists. Some of the films were directed as women as well. This was the best block of films I've seen at the fest so far, outside of opening night. These films looked the most polished, while in many cases maintaining a distinct visual flair as well.

Away is the first documentary I've seen at the fest, directed by Elisa Bates, and it's about women surfers out on Rockaway Beach (filmed before Hurricane Sandy). Bates interviews both newer and older surfers who talk about the heady, almost addictive rush they get from surfing (one of them actually had to seek therapy because she was too into it!). The film includes some dynamite POV shots of the women in action, as well as some footage from a Cormanesque girl-surfer movie directed by one of the interviewees. Very enlightening and quite entertaining as well.

Blooming Road is about a struggling young medical student and the goody-goody rival who gets on her nerves. Strong storytelling skills combine with good acting and editing to make another tale that left me wanting more at the end.... Noemia is a character sketch of an Amelie-like chick. Nothing in the way of story here, but a cute look at what has the potential to be a lively and memorable character.

"A Girl and Her Guardian"
A Girl and Her Guardian is the first fantasy movie I've seen at QWFF. Fans of A Game of Thrones would go for this one: teenage child of destiny with magic powers goes on a quest with her bodyguard to revive the ancient spirit of her world. Andrew Cannizzaro's film begins with a marvelous animated sequence that sets the stage for this world, Lord of the Rings-style. The limited special effects are good, the fight scenes aren't bad, and of course the costumes and makeup help sell the whole thing. It's nice to see a Hollywood-type spectacle done on a small scale; it proves once again that one does not always need to spend hundred of millions on a genre flick.

Just Another Part of Me is a Terry McMillian-like story with a major twist: single black female with man troubles discovers her problems are deeper than she thinks. The twist is clever and original for this kind of story, but regrettably, it's undone by a horribly melodramatic score and an end title that spells out The Message for you so you don't miss it.... Dimension Six is about a couple struggling with alcoholism. The non-linear storytelling proves more effective than I thought at first. It's no Days of Wine and Roses, but for what it is, it's alright.

"Vicious Ann"
Vicious Ann is, if you can imagine it, Kill Bill meets For Colored Girls. Director Jason Sebastian Williams uses free-form poetry to tell the tale of an ass-kicking (yet sensitive) heroine. Lots of visual experimentation here; split-screens, out-of-focus imagery, color and black-and-white and filters, plus frequent use of poetry as captions, and of course, a big fight scene (though I thought the antagonists made it way too easy for Ann by attacking her one-on-one instead of all at once). I'm not certain if it all adds up to something compelling - I'm normally quite wary of filmmakers who throw in everything but the kitchen sink - but it's an attempt at something unique.

Day 1: The old neighborhood
Day 2: The Jackson Five
Day 3: Snow business

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