The Queens World Film Festival has officially begun its 2014 campaign, kicking off a number of screenings and small events, and culminating with the festival’s fourth annual edition on March 4th-9th, 2014. As with previous years, opening night will be held in The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. Other venues during the week include PS 69 in Jackson Heights, and The Secret Theatre and Nesva Hotel in Long Island City. I have a unique personal history with QWFF. It was launched the very first year that I moved to Queens, NY and, in a sense, helped introduce me to the community, specifically Jackson Heights. And it’s the only film festival I can honestly say I’ve attended in some form for every single year of its existence. This festival has truly built something strong in such a short amount of time.
The first edition, which I’ll refer to as QWFF 1, was held in 2011. It featured one of my films, which was presented with a Spirit of Queens award. The festival, literally walking distance from my house, was a lovely four days, during which I made friends with several other filmmakers that continue today. The festival is run by Katha and Don Cato, who have always made a point of maintaining a connection with each filmmaker, helping them to make the next step, and keeping everything transparent. Don and Katha were more than event organizers: they felt like mentors.
But while QWFF 1 was delightful, it still felt generally small-scale. QWFF 2 was where the festival “grew the beard.” This was the first year to host its opening night at The Museum of the Moving Image on a gigantic screen, and feature an appearance by Lloyd Kaufman. It was almost impossible to tell that this was a festival in only its second year; it felt enormous and carried a heavy weight of credibility. And, although I hadn’t planned it, another one of my films was again being featured! The Subway Film Series, a collection of poetry-themed short films, including my own, was being shown in a special out-of-competition screening as a pleasant surprise.
When QWFF 3 came around, I only made it to one screening. That of course was GREEN EYES, a film whose production I’d been following for two years. You can read my article on that screening here. But in general, this was the year I had the least involvement in the festival as I had made the decision not to submit my newest film that year. I had screened at each of the first two editions and didn’t want to start seeming like my films only ever played in the same festival. It may seem trivial, but not everyone realizes how much festival politics are involved in indie filmmaking. There’s tremendous pressure to always premiere at a festival, not show your film online, build momentum, etc, and the filmmaker can get overwhelmed with building their image.
Soon it was summer of 2013 and as I was wrapping production on another film (oh, you can read about that hellish experience here) I saw QWFF 4 was accepting submissions and offering alumni discounts. Furthermore, I also learned that Katha had been experiencing health problems and, rather than keep this private, her and Don had made an effort to involve all of us in recovery. This touched me, and I realized Don and Katha had gone from being community leaders for a small crop of filmmakers to mentors for a generation of filmmakers. And in that spirit, I realized that “festival politics” were meaningless; what matters is getting a film out there. So I submitted once more to QWFF because QWFF had always offered me a home that I hadn’t always appreciated. And, sure enough, my film has been selected to be screened at QWFF 4!
Last Sunday saw the Kickoff Party For QWFF 4 in Astoria, and it was nice to see Katha and Don making announcements and welcoming new members to their evolving family. As Katha made her speech, she mentioned a point she has in years past: that storytelling has been around since the days of the early cavemen. I recognized this speech, and then smiled, because I realized it was a staple of this festival, and that I was part of a regular community, and this speech was one of only many traditions that had been built. Stay tuned for many events sponsored by QWFF, including a special screening January 19th at The Queens Museum, and then I’ll see you opening night on March 4th!