By Steve Barnes
In the slightly more than three years it spent at its location in Long Island City, the Chain Theatre put on a intriguing mix of theater, film and comedy. From its productions of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Hurlyburly” to the Unchained Festival, which featured a range of new and challenging works, the Chain was a distinctive presence on the borough’s cultural scene.
But now, the most dramatic story that the Chain is involved in may well be the one concerning its own future. Having fallen victim to the western Queens real estate boom, the Chain closed its Long Island City location after its lease was terminated in February.
Founder Kirk Gostkowski continues to look for a new home for the theater and has said that his goal is to keep it in Queens. He has been involved in fundraising to help the theater carry out its search, and has enlisted such figures as Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Woodside) to help support his quest.
However, he did not want that search to get in the way of presenting the 2016 Chain Film Festival, so for the festival’s fourth season, he set up shop across the East River—at Fourth Street Theater in the East Village. And while the address of the film festival may be a Manhattan one, the spirit behind it is the same as the one that kept the theater going while it was in Long Island City.
Running through Sunday, the 4th Annual Chain Film Festival is featuring a slate of more than 130 films from around the world. Balancing new talent with such established stars as Charlie Sheen and John Turturro, the festival is billed as “an intimate independent cinema event dedicated to bringing filmmakers together to connect with each other and share their work.” Gostkowski is leading what are being termed “talk backs” after every screening, giving audiences a chance to get to know the filmmakers and other creative people involved in the process of making the movies the festival is presenting.
In keeping with the festival’s New York City focus, one of the awards it will be handing out is the NY Filmmaker award, which is dedicated to filmmakers living in the city. Also contributing to the festival’s Gotham-centered flavor is a special event it will be hosting on Sunday evening. To mark the 30th anniversary of Martin Scorsese’s “The Color of Money,” there will be a conversation with Richard Price, the film’s screenwriter as well as a novelist and one of the writers for the current HBO series “The Night Of.”
With its emphasis on personal stories and forging a strong connection with audiences, the Chain may be thinking big about a new theater and a broader mission, but it also is a strong believer in the idea that small can be beautiful. As Richard Uhlig, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and a partcipant in past Chain Film Festivals, says, “Not only is the selection of films superb, but the staff made a point of getting to know me and really supporting my film. All too often, small films can get lost in the shuffle of a festival. Not at Chain NYC.”
For more information on the Chain Film Festival, go to www.chain