There was a press reception for the upcoming Queens World Film Festival on February 14th, and I got a chance to meet some of the artists from this year’s films. It was almost too much to take in. The festival has become larger, with more films from more countries than ever before. And, from at least this first glance, there doesn’t seem to be any loss in quality. I found it more difficult to choose the ones that stood out from the rest; but, since I won’t see all 130+ selections, I knew I had to do that.
The Festival will be held from March 14th to March 19th, and attendance is expected to be the largest ever. C0-directors Katha and Don Cato introduced the program, which was held at the Museum of the Moving Image. The films will be screened in two of the theatres at the museum, and also at the Zukor Auditorium at nearby Kaufman Astoria Studios. Katha gave an opening speech that was especially strong. She said that filmmakers are doing, in their own way, what our earliest ancestors did – making messages on the walls of their caves. Only now the messages are mostly in a language of “zeros” and “ones”. But we all gather around the fire, still, to discuss them.
This year’s special honoree is Julie Dash, the Queens native whose 1991 classic, “Daughters of the Dust”, was the first film directed by a black woman to get a major theatrical release in this country. She will be present at the opening night ceremony on March 14th, at the Redstone Theater, and also for the special screening of the film on the 15th at the Zukor auditorium.
This prize winners of the festival will be announced on March 19th at the Astor Room Bamboo Lodge, right next door to the museum.
You can order tickets at: www.queensworldfilmfestival.com
The YouTube trailer for the festival is below:
I met with the filmmakers of six films, two features and four narrative shorts. The most common characteristic between them was energy. They were all excited about having their films seen by the public, and were proud of their work. But, also, every single one was well into their next project, and some were already planning the one after that. They were, in short, very comfortable with the life-style of a professional filmmaker.
“Great Expectations” is a short film that finds comic material in the old lament that “you can’t find decent help any more”. A harried consultant, played by Laura Dowling Shea, has just two days to hand in a report to an obsessive, infuriating client, and she desperately needs help. She conducts several job interviews with candidates for an assistant. You’d think that would be a simple thing to do. But, unlike the audience viewing this film, the results give her nothing to laugh about.
I met with director/photographer Don Downie, who started off as a stage actor, with a bachelors in theatre from Michigan State. His first ten years as an actor in New York were mostly for the stage, but he gradually fell into film – “head first” – after a few small roles in films. But he was always a film lover, especially for comedy with a certain “edge”, like Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. He was even a professional puppeteer in those early years, and looked like the John Cusack character in “Being John Malkovich”, “with the long hair and everything”. But that didn’t last. Gradually, he refined his career to concentrate on film writing, directing and photography. In addition to “Great Expectations”, Don also photographed the short films “Cake” and “Seven Men of Chanukah”, both of which are also being shown at the festival.
He’d never worked with lead actress-producer Laura Dowling Shea before, but he’d worked with the writer, Dorothy Marcic, on an earlier project. They came to him to direct, and he agreed.
Time was of the essence. Laura and Dorothy first developed the film in the “Actor’s Green Room” last year as a group project. It was part of a “film challenge” project, and the group’s rules required that the film be made in a 72 hour period and be ready for viewing. Naturally, the fact that all of the cast members were part of “Actors Green Room” saved a lot of time. The reaction to the film was positive, and the version shown at QWFF is only slightly different. Don said that he and Dorothy are now pitching to develop it as a continuing web comedy series. They plan to show it at the upcoming New York Television Festival.
He said that he misses acting, but doesn’t miss the business aspect of the profession at all. He’s really excited about writing now, and is developing a feature from a short screenplay of his called “adultnap.” He has his own production company, in partnership with his wife, Stacie Capone, who is also an actress (and a “foodie”) . They are partners in their production company, SmallMediaExtraLarge (www.smallmediaxl.com). With luck, “adultnap” can be its first feature.
“Great Expectations”: Watch trailer on Vimeo
Showing for “Great Expectations”: Friday, March 17th, 6:30 PM at Zukor Auditorium
“Underwater” is a short based on real events in the filmmaker’s life. Bryan Fitzgerald grew up in Long Island, and he said that his life unravelled when his parents divorced when he was a teenager. The film depicts his growing dependence on drugs and alcohol, living a directionless life of endless party-going. After a near-fatal accident, he is forced to confront how he will make his own future. While the subject matter may be grim, the style is often poetic, and expressive of many emotions.
I met with him and his life-partner, Valery Lessard, who also appears in the film. He wrote “Under Water”, but they co-directed it. They are both strongly committed to filmmaking, but they see themselves primarily as actors. Valery said it didn’t make sense to just wait around for casting calls and, like so many young actors, they decided to create their own projects.
Bryan said his immediate plan is to go back to college. He left CUNY a few years ago to concentrate on acting, and, after the success he’s had, he’d like to finish his degree.
They are developing a comic web series now, tentatively called “Gucci”. It will have, among other things, a squad of preppy college girls who are very judgmental about fashion accessories. It sounds like a major departure from this film, which is seriously intense.
Here’s the trailer for “Under Water” :
Under Water: Watch trailer on Vimeo
Showing for “Under Water”: Saturday, March 18th, 2:45 PM at Bartos Auditorium
“Parallel Dreams” is a short narrative film, without dialogue. It gradually pulls the viewer into Aleksandar Kostic’s deeply personal vision with cryptic, allusive imagery and the beauty of Debussy’s music, which is played on the soundtrack. It depicts the artist Joseph Cornell as he creates one of his famous “box” pieces. In its brief running time – only seven minutes – the viewer is swept into a quietly seductive and mysterious world. The effect is like a dream that lingers in the mind.
I met with the filmmaker, Aleksandar Kostic, who came to the United States in 2001. He was the most serious of the filmmakers I met, and seemed the most committed to expressing a kind of personal vision. But he is learning, he said regretfully, that there are a lot of details and complications that come with being a film artist. And these details cost money, which you will have to raise from people you know, and even strangers.
He said that he left his native Serbia to live in Cyprus for two years, and there he learned the rudiments of filmmaking. But he knew he’d need to learn about film in depth, so he came to New York to study it at the New School. He’s made several short films before “Parallel Dreams”, but is now trying to put together the financing for his first feature, “Capao”.
“Capao” has an interesting genesis. He said that he was haunted by an American film he’d seen in Serbia in the 1970’s, but he didn’t remember what it was. For years it obsessed him, but one day last year, sheerly by accident, he saw it on television. It was Boris Sagal’s “The Omega Man”, starring Charlton Heston. There were scenes of movement on deserted streets, which somehow evoked his native Serbia. He hopes to complete financing and shoot the film in New York this year.
Here’s the trailer for Aleksandar Kostic’s “Parallel Dreams” :
Parallel Dreams: Watch trailer on Vimeo
Showing for “Parallel Dreams”: Thursday, March 16th, at 6:00 PM at Redstone Theatre
“Stitched” is the shortest film, only a little more than three minutes long. It is basically a monologue, but with two actresses and a punch line that I won’t spoil. It is nominated at QWFF in two categories: best actress in a short narrative film, for Deborah Green, and as best short-short narrative. The writer-director, Heather Taylor, called Green a “phenomenal actress”. She said the film was shot in seventeen takes, but it was “all our fault. She was perfect every time.” Last year, Taylor won the best director award for the film at the MAC Underground Film Festival.
I met with Taylor, a Canadian native who lives here now to pursue her own artistic interests. Her company is called Red on Black Productions; a name inspired, she said, from a Mark Rothko painting she saw in London.
She said the bills are paid from her editing job at The Economist magazine, but film is where her future is. Although educated in England, she still feels strongly about her Canadian roots. Right now she is finishing the writing and financing of a feature she intends to shoot there. She describes it as “Boyz in the Hood” as set in Northern Saskatchewan. But before that, she intends to complete another narrative short, “Paid to Stay”, a kind of horror movie about a couple entrapped in an air b&b scheme.
Showing for “Stitched”: Sunday, March 19th, 4:30 PM at Bartos Theatre
The two feature-length films are different in tone and subject matter, but each makes a strong impression in its own way.
“Someone Else” is an adult psychological drama by Nelson Kim, a Korean-American. About fifteen minutes into it, I sensed a strong similarity to Claude Chabrol’s “The Cousins.” While not exactly a remake in either tone or story, it is similar in how it exposes deep psychological conflicts between two young men who are cousins. Jamie, who has been accepted to law school in New York City, will be staying with his more outgoing and confident cousin, Will. Jamie left his sweet fiancee in his hometown, but skypes with her very day. Will is also seeing a beautiful girl, Kat, but their relationship is not exclusive, more of a fun thing. Each of the young men undergoes a major change in lifestyle and self-image, due mostly to their hitherto unexamined feelings about each other. And each of the women in their lives becomes swept up in the emotional turmoil.
Nelson said he started out thinking he was probably going to be a cartoonist, and was drawing constantly as a kid. But once he “got the film bug”, that all changed. Now, he says, the only drawing he does is story boards. So he pursued his new-found passion for film at Berkeley, and then received his Masters in it at Columbia. Now he teaches film history and technique at Fordham University.
He is amazed at how his passion for film developed. He wasn’t hooked at all until, as a teenager, he started seeing the edited versions of seventies classics on television, like “The Godfather” and “Taxi Driver”. After that came other classics like “Citizen Kane”, “Chinatown” and, later, the French “nouvelle vague” and Kurosawa. Although it is obvious he would like to make his own masterpieces someday, he seems to be taking the long view for his career.
It was that perspective that led to his making “Someone Else”. He decided to put aside what was going to be his first feature because it would be too expensive to make. Instead, he completed this film with a kickstarter campaign, and self-distributed it in theatres because the distribution offers were terrible. With his producer-partner, who is based in California, he feels ready to obtain financing for the script he had set aside.
Significantly, he feels that VOD from one’s own distribution board will turn out to be the leading source of revenue for independent filmmakers.
Here is the trailer for Nelson Kim’s “Someone Else” :
Showing for “Someone Else”: Wednesday, March 15th at 6:00 PM at Zukor Auditorium
“A Long Time For Lovers” is a romantic comedy set in contemporary New York. It also has a punch line but, unlike the aforementioned “Stitched”, I’m going to spoil it. It concerns eight young people who treat their relationships as if their future lives depended on it. Or, rather, as if they are spending their last day on earth. Spoiler alert: they are.
Filmmaker David McElfresh is a multiple-threat in that he wrote, directed, photographed and edited the film himself. He serves as his own crew, and he seems to like it that way. His festival nomination is for best cinematography of a narrative feature.
In spite of the film’s depressing premise, what makes it fun is that it’s all a goof. The point is that the characters are so self-absorbed that they can’t see beyond their immediate emotional needs, no matter what cosmic changes are happening around them. Don’t look for disturbing philosophy or special effects – Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” covers that territory – but do prepare for a sly satire about how sex can so consume otherwise plain, grounded people that they start acting like idiots.
I got the impression, during the interview, that the “it’s just a goof” attitude is why David is in the filmmaking business in the first place. He looks back on his teenage years in Pensacola, Florida, where he grew up, as one long sketch-comedy skit. He would hang out with his buddies and film sketches that they would improvise, in public, and then just sit around and view them for their own amusement. And yet, something serious was also happening. He saw that the great filmmakers, especially Robert Altman, would take you on these seemingly directionless journeys that – somehow – were also making a serious point, but one that you only realized at the end.
Still, he would deny that “A Long Time for Lovers” has any serious theme. The thread of the film is that each of the eight characters is already in a relationship that they want to get out of …because they lust after someone else who, in turn, couldn’t care less about them because they are lusting after someone else who couldn’t care less about them because….Well, you get the idea.
It grew out of improvs with his “gang” in New York, which includes his family and friends here. He said it was shot over a six month period – “mostly on weekends” – and cost about $800.00 total. Seriously. His improv background certainly helped in the writing because so much of it was created by the actors as they were “playing” it, and all are obvious pros. One standout is Holly Horner, dark-haired and mysterious, who gets a lot of the close-ups. Another is Justin McElfresh, David’s brother, whose pathetic whimpering is almost painful to watch. You really want to belt the guy.
David’s sister, Kathleen McElfresh, has a bit part as a psychiatrist. But Kathleen’s husband, Campbell Scott, is also one of the “gang”. He only appears, briefly, as an announcer here, but David intends for him to have a major role in his next feature, which is called “Floaters”. We’ll be watching for it.
Finally, The film made me realize, for the first time, that we may finally be in the post-Woody Allen era for New York rom-coms. I detected more than a slight hint of SoCal Duplass brothers in its bouquet. Very flavorful.
A Long Time For Lovers: Watch trailer on Vimeo
Showing for “A Long Time for Lovers”: Saturday, March 18th at 3:15 PM at Zukor Auditorium
See you at the FESTIVAL!