By Bill Parry
A documentary film exploring the brutal anti-gay murder of Julio Rivera in 1990 will have its world premiere during the Queens World Film Festival in March.
“Julio of Jackson Heights” will be shown at the same school where he was set upon by a three-man “hunting party” from a skinhead gang, a tragic event that sparked the coming out of New York’s largest and until then mostly closeted LGBT community, according to the film’s director, Richard Shpuntoff, who grew up in Elmhurst.
“The festival’s founders, Katha and Don Cato, have managed to get the auditorium of PS 69 for the screening, which means a lot to me because Julio was murdered 25 years ago in its schoolyard, just outside where people will be watching this story for the first time,” Shpuntoff said. “I really can’t imagine a more powerful place to show the film.”
More than 500 films made the December deadline for the sixth annual Queens World Film Festival, submitted from countries around the globe, including Cuba, Spain, Korea, Bangladesh, China and 24 other nations. The final selections will be announced Feb. 4 at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.
“This year’s films come from many of the countries whose diasporas are represented in Queens, and they promise to move and entertain our audiences,” said Don Cato, the artistic director. “There are tender films, heartbreaking films and several works that are extremely provocative, even disturbing. Taken as a whole, I feel this year’s selection ties us into discussions people are having around the world.”
The festival runs from March 15-20. Each year, the festival pays tribute to an outstanding filmmaker for his or her body of work.
This year’s “Spirit of Queens” award goes to independent film director Melvin Van Peebles who is most famous for his movie “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” which heralded a new era in African-American cinema. It will be screened on March 16 at MoMI, followed by a question-and-answer session with Van Peebles.
The festival will also showcase a documentary on the New York State Pavilion by Matthew Silva, a product of Middle Village. “Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion” chronicles its demise over the last 50 years.
The film details its post-fair use as a 1960s concert venue and a 1970s roller rink, including its years of neglect and the now growing advocacy efforts to save and repurpose the structure. Silva traveled the country interviewing more than 25 individuals who reminisce about the Pavilion’s glory days a half century ago.
“I was so excited my film was selected,” Silva said. “The Catos run a fabulous festival and it’s important to share my film with their audience and increase the awareness of our campaign to restore the structure.”
Silva’s documentary premiered at the Queens Theater in May and has been entered in several other film festivals. Cato said “Julio of Jackson Heights” and “Modern Ruin” are both historically significant for Queens.
“Richard Shpuntoff captures a moment in time that must be remembered not just by Jackson Heights but the city as well,” Cato said. “It took him eight years to make it and it deserves to be shown. Silva’s film is a crowdfunded project which depicts a place in the very history of Queens and it captures the cultural landscape of the community.”
Another documentary about the World’s Fair will also be screened during the festival. “After the Fair” is a look at what became of all the structures that were at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
“It makes an interesting companion piece to ‘Modern Ruin,’” Cato said. “One complements the other and gives it a larger context.”
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Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr