Monday, March 10, 2014

QWFF wrap-up: Cinema and cupcakes

At the Queens World Film Festival Awards, held Saturday night at the Long Island City restaurant Dutch Kills Centraal, one of the winners (unfortunately, I forget who) was greatly enthused about her win, and her moment in the spotlight, to the point where she stood up on a chair and led a brief chant of "In-die film! In-die film!" It was a giddy moment, a moment of solidarity with her fellow filmmakers and an audience supportive of an artist at the start of her career.

When most people think of independent film, they think of movies from the likes of Fox Searchlight or The Weinstein Company or Lionsgate. Saturday night, however, one could see the true face of independent cinema - mavericks operating on shoestring budgets without the benefit of a studio of any kind to back their efforts. And yet, in that one moment, that filmmaker realized she had something quite valuable: she had her peers. Speaking as an creative person, I can assure you that the worth of having peers you can lean on cannot be underestimated.

But where will these filmmakers go from here? New York Times movie critic Manohla Dargis wrote a piece earlier this year about what she perceived as the glut of indie films flooding theaters. She argued that many of them are too mediocre for theatrical distribution and that this is having a deleterious effect on the industry. (At first I kinda sympathized with her point of view, but I've read some counter-arguments since then that made sense.)

Could the solution involve different screening locations? The majority of venues QWFF has used throughout their brief history have been non-traditional, and in many cases, off the beaten path, and people have come, in significant numbers. Getting a New York Times review is a goal worth shooting for, no question, but modern media has changed to the point where it's possible for word of mouth on a given film to spread through social media, or as the result of a crowdsourcing campaign - techniques many of the films at QWFF have used.

While I would love to see films like Recursion or The House That Jack Built get shown at places like Cinema Village or the IFC Center or Film Forum, at the same time, if showing these films in a tiny screening room in Brooklyn or Queens means the difference between keeping these films alive and building their audience, and oblivion, I know which option I'd take if I were in the filmmakers' places. 

Then again, maybe one doesn't have to think small. The success of AFFRM, for example, is a direct result of gathering together like-minded film festivals and using their collective clout to get independent films in mainstream theaters. I haven't seen this business model replicated anywhere else yet, but regardless, it's an example of a non-traditional solution to the long-standing problem of wider distribution - relying on one's peers. The idea implicit in that QWFF Award winner's victorious chant.

QWFF was very good this year, and I'm glad I was able to discover not only some new movies, but some places in Queens that were new to me... such as the cupcake shop in Astoria which raised a tiny bit of a stir when I talked about it on Twitter. It's called Sweets First, and they make these delicious cupcakes named after movies and TV shows. I first went there on Wednesday, when I was on my way to the Nesva Hotel and needed something quick and easy to eat. I'd seen the shop before, but had never been inside, and now I'm glad I did. 

I went there twice: the first time I had a "Twilight" - a chocolate cupcake with Oreo cookies and frosting - and on Saturday I had a "Vanilla Sky" - a vanilla cupcake with frosting and sprinkles. You can see the photos I took of the place and of my cupcakes on the WSW Facebook page. Definitely a place to visit if you're ever in Astoria.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5

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