Grassroots Forest Hills film festival enters the big leagues with new name and scale

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Photo courtesy of the Festival of Cinema NYC

Originally inspired as a grassroots approach toward the festival format, the Festival of Cinema NYC took on a new name, location, scale this year with its newfound sponsorship by Regal UA Midway, a franchise of the second-largest theater circuit in the U.S.

“It was an offer we couldn’t refuse,” said founder Jayson Simba.

The festival will return for its third annual event from Aug. 2 to 11 at the stadium-style theater at 108-22 Queens Blvd. in Forest Hills. It will screen 125 films by filmmakers from across the world and hold Q&A sessions, workshops and red carpet parties over the 10-day event.

In addition to the screenings at the Midway, its events will be held at the Queens Library Forest Hills branch and the Queens Museum.

Simba said that he’s inspired how the event has quickly expanded over its previous two years and aspires to create a world-class film event.

I’m a filmmaker and actor myself. So, I was with a bunch of filmmaker friends of mine and we were talking about how Queens doesn’t have anything like this. It doesn’t have a big film festival. You always have to go out to Tribeca or Brooklyn,” Simba said.

Over the course of its run in their first year, the festival attracted 3,000 attendees. This year it received just over 425 film submissions.

Simba said that he watched each and every film submitted. He doesn’t have a hard and fast rubric to judge films by. He and his team accept everything from horror and sci-fi to human drama, but he’s looking for films with wide appeal.

“Independent film has a stereotype of being low-quality – like avant-garde, silent film, black and white – something that mass audience wouldn’t care to see. And we’re trying to break that stereotype,” Simba said.

In addition to partnering with local business groups like the Queens Economic Development Corporation and Council of the Arts to do community outreach, the festival has teamed up with film organizations this year as well to offer different kinds of programming. Groups like ArteEast out of Egypt, the Asian American Film Lab and Indie Film Collective will hold events throughout the festival.

One event organized by the Indie Film Collective will involve a 72-hour film challenge where 12 teams of filmmakers scramble to make a 7- to 10-minute short film that will be premier for the first time on Wednesday of the festival. 

Simba said it impossible to pick one thing he’s most excited about, but he always recommends the opening and closing night films.  A feature titled “5th of July” starring Jaleel White will open, along with a short called “Nora Ephron Goes to Prison” about two female inmates bonding over their love of romantic comedies. On closing night, the Italian short film “Red Hands” will accompany “Quest” the story of a troubled middle school graffiti artist. 

For more information, tickets and the schedule of events, visit www.festivalofcinemanyc.com.