Curtain to rise on Queens World Film Festival

Curtain to rise on Queens World Film Festival
By Morgan Rousseau

The Queens World Film Festival kicks off Thursday, showcasing 109 films at two different locations in Jackson Heights.

Films will be shown Thursday through Monday at Jackson Heights Cinema and the Renaissance Charter School. The festival features films from all over the world, as well as some by local filmmakers.

Co-directors Don and Katha Cato said the mission of the festival is to identify overlooked and challenging films.

“Since the economic downturn, independent films are harder and harder to make, therefore it’s harder [for filmmakers] to get them screened,” said Don, a filmmaker who has been active on the festival circuit for decades. “In order to make their money back, the studios have to put a lot of money into advertising and marketing. Sometimes those costs are 10 times more than the cost to make the film. For that reason it’s become difficult to get these types of films screened.”

Don and Katha are both eager to showcase low-budget, quality films that have difficulty reaching an audience.

“We’re a startup, so we’re not going to attract $1.5 million movies. But we have some really good films that are independent low-budgets that really do strike a chord in terms of their ideas. They are all entertaining and compelling,” Don said.

Filmmakers submitted movies from Israel, Brazil, Taiwan, Canada, Oregon and Chicago, to name a few. About 15 films are from the New York area, with 10 of those from Queens.

Don and Katha estimate that about half the films that were submitted were selected for the festival. “We reached out to colleges, we made it as easy as possible for people to submit,” Katha said. “We also did a huge e-mail campaign. This is about doing something right, and a lot of people responded.”

The directors programmed the festival in blocks to maximize audience interest. There are 33 differently themed blocks, each one no more than two hours long. Some blocks are made up of a few short films, while other blocks show a single feature-length film. The block themes range from “Edgy Love Short Stack” to “Vampires, Zombies and Psychos.” At the end of each block, audience members have the chance to meet the filmmakers and partake in question-and-answer sessions.

A panel of judges, including Bill Woods, the New York coordinator for New Filmmakers Series; Jennifer Griffith, associate professor of music at Hofstra University; Stéphane Houy-Towner, a curator formerly with the Met; William Gadea, an animator who is creative director of Homebaked Films and teaches at the New York Film Academy; and Celested Balducci, a Queens filmmaker, will also hand out a number of awards at the end of the festival.

The winning films will be announced at the award ceremony on Sunday. Awards will be designated to the “Best Of…” winners in each category. Categories include “Best Narrative Feature” and “Best Narrative Short,” and more. There will also be honorable mentions as well as special awards, like “The Spirit of Queens” and “Best of the Festival” awards.

Sunday night’s ceremony will also feature a selection of work by the 2011 QWFF Youth Initiative. The program, spearheaded by Katha, allowed students at Our World Neighborhood Charter School in Astoria to create their own films. Some youths in the program will also be working at the festival.

Don and Katha said they’ve gotten incredible support from the community, but since the QWFF is only starting-up, they’ve had to pay out of pocket to make the event come together.

“Whatever it takes to make this thing happen, we’re doing it,” Don said.

Tickets are available for purchase online and at the screenings. Doors open at 6 p.m. on Thursday, opening night and tickets are a flat fee of $10. Opening night will feature remarks by Don and Katha, special guests, as well as two short films, one feature length film and a Q & A session.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday the cost for seniors and kids 18 and under are $3 per block. For all others, tickets are $6 per block on those days. An unlimited festival pass is also available for $36.

There will be after-parties each night following the screenings. Visit www.queensworldfilmfestival.com for detailed information, including a full schedule and film information, as well as information on QWFF discounts at surrounding restaurants and hotels.

If You Go

Queens World Film Festival

When: March 3-6, various times; closing awards ceremony March 6, 6 p.m., at Renaissance School

Where: Jackson Heights Cinema, 40-31 82nd St., and Renaissance Charter School, 35-58 81st Street, Jackson Heights

Cost: $10 for opening night; $6 per screening block ($3 for children and seniors); fesitval pass for all blocks, $36

Website: www.queensworldfilmfestival.com for full schedule