Wednesday, March 27, 2019

QWFF 2019 part 1

I cannot believe this year's Queens World Film Festival is a week and a half long! While it's still not quite as huge as the Tribeca or New York fests, it has gained a whole lot of attention over the years as more and more filmmakers contribute to the event. Don & Katha Cato maintain the drive to keep it going, year in and year out, and they have a passion for film that has to be seen to be believed.

I, on the other hand, am not capable of keeping up for the whole eleven days, so this year's highlights are more abbreviated than usual. I still expect to find good stuff at the two venues, the Museum of the Moving Image and the Kaufman Astoria Studios, here in Queens.

This year I'm gonna try something different: because the majority of films at QWFF are shorts, I see lots of them. I think it'll be easier if I wrote about the ones that leave the biggest impressions on me. Trying to describe the more abstract ones is a pain in the ass and I don't like most of them anyway. Plus, I can say more about the ones I like most, and I'd rather do that.

MARCH 21, Opening Night

The usual throng of filmmakers and their entourages flocked in the MOMI lobby. An accordion player played off to the side. At one point Katha had cups of champagne passed around and made a toast. A performance artist preceded the opening night screenings with some manner of aural presentation, accompanied by what looked like a live ferret. The whole thing went way over my head.

- Marguerite. Old woman learns something about her nurse that triggers feelings of regret over paths not taken in life. I'm gonna avoid spoilers for this beautiful French-Canadian short because it should be seen without knowing too much.

At one point, Marguerite asks Rachel a question, and when she does, the entire opening night audience gasped because we all realized the implications of that question and the pieces of the film fell neatly into place. It's one of those moments you long for as a moviegoer, and I suspect, as a filmmaker too.

Writer-director Marianne Farley was Oscar nominated at last month's ceremony in the Live Action Short Film category, and it's not hard to see why. Her screenplay is minimal, needing little but saying plenty. Her actresses, Beatrice Picard and Sandrine Bisson, sell the intimacy of the relationship between these characters. Fine film.

- Awakening. The history of life on Earth, from the microscopic to the global and beyond. Didn't quite grok what it was all about at first, but once I did, I got into it. Superb editing from director LE Salas, who came to QWFF last year with Atomic Mother. He considers both films complimentary to each other: one about destruction, the other about creation.


- Livescream. A video gamer with an online following samples a new game for his live internet audience, but it turns out to be much more than just a game.

It's The Blair Witch Project meets Ready Player One: the entire movie was divided into three screens: the game itself, which was the biggest screen, a chatbox where the online viewers text responses to the action as it happens, and a head shot of the lead actor, Gunnar Willis, as his character plays the game. On YouTube you can see lots of videos like this, where someone plays a game and others comment while it happens. This is the first film I've seen done this way. Horror film lovers and gamers, obviously, will get a big kick out of this.

Friends of director Michelle Iannantuono were in the audience and they talked about the film for her. She designed the entire video game herself; took her three months. The way she guided Willis' performance was not unlike the way it was done for Heather, Josh and Mike in Blair: giving him prompts as to what she wanted him to say and where the story should go.


Cast and crew (and entourage)
of The Incoherents
- The Incoherents. 90s indie rock band reunites, only to discover a changed musical landscape. This one was fun. Imagine Cameron Crowe making a sequel to Singles and you'll get a bit of an idea of what this is like. Expect lots of jokes and situations about dealing with middle age. Annette O'Toole has a small role.

The original soundtrack is pretty good, though in the bathroom afterwards, I heard people complaining the sound quality could have been better, and I have to agree. It felt a bit muted and not as sharp as it should be for a film like this.

The MOMI main auditorium was packed with friends of the cast and crew, supporting director/actor Jared Barel, writer/actor Jeff Auer, and actor/songwriter Alex Emanuel, and they were very enthusiastic. This was one of the liveliest audiences I"ve ever been part of at QWFF.

Rag Doll
- Rag Doll. Female mixed martial artist deals with ailing mother and overall bad attitude on the path to being a champion. Don & Katha personally convinced me to watch this one, and I was with it all the way until the climax, when a Twilight Zone-ish twist involving Nora's mother comes out of nowhere.

I did not believe it was necessary. It didn't completely mar this Rocky-ish story for me, due to the outstanding performance by lead actress Shannon Murray, one of the best I've seen in a QWFF film, but it came awfully close.

Director Bailey Kobe uses lots of slo-mo to capture the brutal world of MMA, to strong effect -- and I don't even like MMA. The viewer really feels like they're there in the ring with the competitors. At one point Nora's shoulder gets dislocated and you feel it when it happens. Good movie despite the ending.


- Hi, I'm Dan. One-man short about an office drone preparing for a job interview. This was part of a block billed as comedy, but it portrayed the mental breakdown of a man in stages, so it didn't feel very comedic. Still, it was memorable, thanks to David Perez-Ribada's performance and the editing and camerawork. Director Rosa Rodriguez shot this in one day, in one room.

l-r: Dan writer Patrick Avella,
director Rosa Rodriguez; Greg
director Jeffrey Scott Collins
- Poor Greg Drowning. Neurotic writer's new roommate is a manic pixie dream girl who he can't help falling for, but she's not what she seems. Funny in a broad sense, but believe it or not, its ending is very similar to that of Rag Doll. What are the odds? I wasn't convinced of this ending, either, though at least here, director Jeffrey Scott Collins tries harder to sell you on it.

It's the kind of climax that is extremely difficult to pull off well. The best-known example of this kind of ending is from a film from the past twenty years you're very familiar with, so if you know what I'm talking about, I think you'll agree regarding the level of difficulty.

That said, because this is such a broad comedy, I'm slightly more willing to go with it here than in Rag Doll, but not by much. And this movie did make me laugh.

Part two coming next week.


  1. The number of film festivals seem to be rising, along with the popularity. There is something for every film fan and it's about time.

  2. Didn't realize there were that much more, but I'm not surprised. I would imagine they've become more specialized these days. I remember seeing a website once for a bicycle-themed film fest, if you can believe that.


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