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Annual film festival returns, bringing ‘the world back to Queens’

"Mouse" director Adam Engel with actor Maximo Masefield explains his film after it opened the 11th annual Queens World Film Festival at the Museum of the Moving Image. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

The 11th Queens World Film Festival (QWFF) is back with a hybrid of live viewings and online streaming after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the festival to go all-digital in 2020.

The 11-day celebration of 198 indie movies from 33 nations kicked off with a screening of “Mouse” by Adam Engel and “Rewind” by Stephan Joseph Eigenmann under the headline “All Wound Up” on Wednesday, June 23, at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria with a live audience at limited capacity.

“Mouse” producer Vanessa Bontea explained that they had intended to submit the film to festivals in 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were forced to delay introducing their film to an audience for an entire year.

The Queens World Film Festival team is set for opening night at the Museum of the Moving Image. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

She decided to submit the feature to QWFF because the film was entirely shot in Queens, and the crew hails from the borough. She was thrilled that the film premiered at the 11th annual QWFF.

“Having this as our world premiere and being here and being so welcomed by the festival — it’s so nice to cap off the pandemic and do something like this,” said Bontea, who also is an actor. “And being in the theater again, it’s just extra special.”

Before “Rewind,” a story about a mother who suppresses the fear of losing her daughter to military service with futuristic technology, and “Mouse,” a thriller about a lonely groundskeeper who struggles with the crushing guilt of a local murder, were projected on the big screen for the first time, QWFF paid tribute to Elmhurst Hospital workers with a short film.

Arslan Braig, 17-year-old filmmaker, tells the story of the Elmhurst Hospital staff through personal interviews and shares how they kept hope despite the challenges and heartaches they encountered dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The short was shot during the height of the pandemic.

“It’s authentic. [Braig] had access to people we would have never been able to talk to,” said Katha Cato, executive director and board president of QWFF.

Braig’s own mother works at Elmhurst Hospital, Kato noted.

In May, QWFF honored Elmhurst Hospital’s health care professionals with the “Spirit of Queens Award” for their heroic work during the COVID-19 pandemic and raised money for all-access festival passes for the entire workforce.

Moviegoers check in for opening night of the 11th annual Queens World Film Festival at the Museum of the Moving Image. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Cato shared that through contributions from individual supporters, QWFF could donate 2,229 passes to the health care staff. Film Festival Flix stepped and purchased the remaining 3,698 tickets.

After the premiere of his narrative film, “Mouse,” Engel shared that he had never attended a screening of his productions before because it was too nerve-wracking.

But this time, he said he was prepared, because “I have something that I think people are going to enjoy it. And I think they did.”

Engel, who said that the premiere was “the beginning of his film’s life,” wants to reach as wide of an audience as possible and plans on introducing “Mouse,” to other film festivals and streaming services.

“For anybody that’s a lover of the cinema, of independent cinema … I think they’re really going to enjoy the story,” Engel said about his film, which is also nominated for best cinematography, best narrative feature and best male actor award for Joel Bernard, who portrays groundskeeper Michael.

The crew and cast of “Mouse” attend the opening of the 11th annual Queens World Film Festival opens at the Museum of the Moving Image. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

For the first time since its inception, QWFF is screening 133 films at five venues, including at the Museum of the Moving Image, The Local NY, Culture Lab, the United Sherpa Association and Queens Theatre.

“We’ve never screened anything in Queens Theatre before, so that’s new,” Cato said. “We’re the first event to open them up after they were closed due to the pandemic.”

Step-and-repeat fun on opening night of the 11th annual Queens World Film Festival at the Museum of the Moving Image. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)
Step-and-repeat fun on opening night of the 11th annual Queens World Film Festival at the Museum of the Moving Image. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Cato praised Taryn Sacramone, the executive director of Queens Theatre.

“She has opened up that magnificent theater for us and we have incredible work in that place,” Cato said. “And what’s so exciting is that people from Brooklyn and Manhattan are going to discover that theater.”

Cato added that they felt they needed to be part of the effort to bring “the world back to Queens.”

The Queens World Film Festival team is set for opening night of the 11th annual Queens World Film Festival at the Museum of the Moving Image. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“There were so many local filmmakers — 20 from Queens, 24 from Brooklyn, 22 from Manhattan, one from the Bronx and one is from Staten Island,” Cato said. “So we just really felt like all five boroughs needed to be represented and to bring the people to Queens.”

To learn more and buy tickets, visit queensworldfilmfestival.org.

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