First Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema showcases Queens talent

The first-annual Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema will take place from Aug. 4 to 13.
Photo courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema
By Angelica Acevedo

The first annual Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema will take over Queens in August, presenting over 150 films from 24 countries — including various Queens-made projects.

The 10-day festival from Aug. 4 to Aug. 13 will take place at Kew Gardens Cinema, Maple Grove Cemetery and the Queens Museum. The films presented will compete for awards in the Narrative Feature, Documentary Feature, Narrative Short, Documentary Short, and the Animation and Experimental Film categories, chosen by a select group of jurors.

Winners of each category will receive a personally engraved statuette at the Grand Awards Gala. The event will take place on Aug. 13 at Terrace on the Park’s rooftop penthouse in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Founder and Executive Director Jayson Simba said this event would not have been possible without the “generosity and support of the residents of Kew Gardens.”

“I would like to give a particular shout-out to Maple Grove Cemetery and the Friends of Maple Grove, whose generosity and support has led to many introductions to officials in the Queens community, not to mention that without them we wouldn’t have a headquarters from which to operate,” Simba said. “I’d also like to thank members of the Kew Gardens Civic Association for allowing us to discuss the inner workings of a film festival, something that will be a first in the community.”

Simba added that he hopes the festival will “help this historic hamlet of Queens continue to thrive and prosper, both economically and culturally, and we plan to keep this tradition going every year hereafter.”

To begin the event, the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema will host a kick-off party that will be open to the public Aug. 4 at Austin’s Ale House’s Trackside Cafe by the Long Island Rail Road Station in Kew Gardens. A plaque dedication ceremony in honor of the late Kew Gardens’ resident, Rodney Dangerfield, presented by Friends of Maple Grove, will launch the event at 8 p.m. Then, there will be free beer tastings from some of the top breweries in Queens from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. To attend, you must RSVP at their website.

The festival will also feature special programming of selected films and discussions at the Queens Museum and the Maple Grove Cemetery. One of these include three one-hour panel discussions at Maple Grove Cemetery’s The Center on Aug. 12, which will cover “important and relevant topics in today’s independent film industry.” The panels are free and open to the public with seating on a first come, first serve basis.

Some of the Queens-made films that will be featured at the festival include the world premiere of “Good Day,” directed by Forest Hills’ Louie Cortes; the narrative short “Language is Dead,” by Kew Gardens Hills’ resident Jermaine Manigualt and the feature film “Nowhere, Michigan,” by Robert Vornkahl of Woodhaven.

Another film featured in the festival is “Pomonok Dreams,” directed by Terry Katz and Alan Stark. The documentary tells the story of a housing project in Queens that was built in the 1950s. According to their website, the story is told “in the voices of the people who first moved in, the kids who grew up there, and the families living there today.”

Katz, born and bread in Pomonok, said that although their film was screened in three other festivals in the city, it’s “more exciting to be in the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema because this is where we grew up.” Katz also edited a narrative short called “Stolen,” directed by Gene Cernilli, that will appear in the festival.

He has been a film and television editor for over 30 years now, and is a professor in the Fashion Institute of Technology and St. John’s University. Katz believes that it’s great that the festival is pushing independent films, as opposed to the mainstream bigger-budgeted films and TV shows.

“Our film was a labor of love and it tells the story of a community built in a special time,” Katz said. “It just seemed like things lined up right, but now public housing is falling from that initial dream.”

“Pomonok Dreams” will give audiences the chance to see what it was like in that era. Katz and Stark worked on the film for a few years, not only talking about their lives there, but also collecting stories and videos from residents of Pomonok.

“Pomonok was diverse and people seemed to be a little more open-minded, and it was a time of assimilation. My grandparents came and wanted to be American — American first and Jewish second,” Katz said. “We just want people to look back and see what it was like.”

For updates and a full program of the festival, visit the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema’s website at www.kewgardensfestivalofcinema.com.

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