Wednesday, March 18, 2015

QWFF 2015 Day 1: Parental guidance

Five years may not seem like a big milestone, but for the Queens World Film Festival, it's a sign of rapid and remarkable growth. From its humble beginnings, it has drawn together the Queens film community at large and linked it up with filmmakers worldwide, giving independent films of every stripe an opportunity to shine. 

Credit, as always, must go to the dynamic duo who put it all together, Don & Katha Cato. The amount of energy and passion they put into this festival, as well as the truckloads of genuine love and respect they receive in return, cannot be understated. You only have to be around them once to understand. Last night, QWFF 2015 kicked off at the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI), and once again, they were at the heart of it, doing what they do best: telling the world about the movies they love.

Queens Councilman Jimmy van Bramer (center), a QWFF
presenter, with Katha and Don Cato at MOMI
This year's QWFF is also significant in that MOMI's involvement is greater. In addition to hosting Opening Night, the museum, for the first time, is one of the screening venues, along with returning sites P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights and the Secret Theater in Long Island City. Within the past year, the area of Astoria/LIC which MOMI calls home was declared by the city an arts district, a further indication that Queens is being recognized for its unique culture and artistic contributions, and QWFF has been part of that.

This year's Spirit of Queens honoree was Cuban filmmaker Leon Ichaso. Among his best-known films, both in and out of the mainstream, include the Wesley Snipes crime flick Sugar Hill, El Cantante, a biopic of singer Hector Lavoe, with Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, and the political drama Bitter Sugar (screening tonight at MOMI), in addition to a variety of theatrical and TV movies and shows in a career dating back to 1979. Here's a recent New York Times article about him.

The opening night "sampler" of films had parents (and surrogate parents) as a recurring theme:

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz
- Roxanne. From England comes this character study in which a young girl on the streets is taken in by a transgender sex worker. Not exactly warm and fuzzy. Borders on cliche, but the tension inherent in a situation where a child is in an environment of sex-for-money is addressed in the brief running time. Makes good use of the location shooting.

- Godka Cirka (A Hole in the Sky). From France, but set in Somali, this one focuses on the lives of shepherdesses, narrated by a young girl. It almost seemed like a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction; the footage of the shepherdesses, young and old, have a documentary feel. We follow them around the countryside and the spare and ramshackle streets, we observe their rituals and gatherings and songs, and it looks like something you might see on the BBC, but imposed over all of it is this girl's narrative about her life, her family and her expectations. A unique approach.

- Dirty Laundry Day. An animated short about a laundromat change machine that is more than it seems. An American film, but the filmmaker is of Syrian descent, and recent events in that specific country inform the narrative in this film, although I kinda wish that it was a little bit more obvious within the story so that the film wouldn't need a post-script title card telling us so. Good otherwise. The sketchy artwork combined with computer effects made for an unusual contrast.

Spirit of Queens honoree Leon Ichaso
- Big Girl. Why is young Hannah's mother pulling her and her younger sister out of school for the day - and why does she need to be a "big girl," today of all days? The answer is as shocking as it is subtly depicted. My favorite of last night's films by a big margin. At first, you don't know what the mother's deal is - she almost seems like the bad guy at first - but the deeper the story gets, the more obvious her love for Hannah is. A movie that deals with a difficult and sensitive subject, yet it's handled so delicately, and you get just enough of the puzzle pieces to add it up yourself in the end. Outstanding film, with a moving performance from the young actress who plays Hannah.

- Carry On. From China, set during World War 2, a father has to figure out how to protect his daughter from the Japanese soldiers raiding his village. Another gem, one that shows how not even duty can get in the way of simple human compassion. Even mixes in some funny moments. Cinematography, screenplay, performances, all tops.

Plus, there was a bonus screening of Sundance award winner World of Tomorrow, an animated short about cloning that was as adorable as it was visually striking. There's quite a bit of buzz around it, from the looks of things, so I'd strongly advise you to look for it when it becomes available to watch later this month.

Look for more pictures from QWFF 2015 this week and next on the WSW Tumblr page.


  1. This is great! I love hearing about peoples experiences at Film Festivals, they're all so varied. I had never heard of this festival before!

  2. It's been building in popularity here in New Yprk. While it's not yet on the level of the NewYork or Tribeca FFs, it's making an impact and that impact is being felt. Stay with me all this week: I'll have more coverage.


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