queens world film festival

Queens World Film Festival Recap

Queens World Film Festival is my favorite festival. Not just because it happens in my community of Queens. But also because, now in its 9th year, I can honestly say it’s one of the most well-run, supportive and lovingly programmed festivals out there. I travel the country attending festivals regularly, for my own work and my job with Seed&Spark, and Queens World is truly top notch. Katha and Don (the lovely festival directors) curate content that reflects the diverse voices and stories in Queens (and thus from around the world), and they make it a point to get the local community involved through a variety of events surrounding the screenings. They have so much heart and integrity; it's clear that they care about every film and filmmaker that's part of the festival. Don shows such thoughtful nuance in his programming and Katha makes every filmmaker feel seen and appreciated. Their welcoming and encouraging energy is contagious. Being part of the festival really feels like being part of a movement, not just showing up for a screening.

I’ve written many recaps about QWFF because this was my 5th year with a film at the festival (though my first with a feature). I'll keep this one short because I’ve already said so much and because it’s a little different from my usual festival experiences where I show up in a city for that specific event and spend all my time engaging with the festival. QWFF is 11 days long, and this year screened over 200 films. I don’t get to experience it as much as I’d like every year because my daily life is still going on around me. That said, I always attend opening & closing night. And this year I was able to spend 4 of the 11 days at the festival, getting to meet new filmmakers and see & support a few local friends with their films also in the festival. I can confidently say that the lineups are consistently compelling and well-organized. The Q&A hosts did a great job this year in particular of having specific questions for each film, as well as encouraging questions from the audience. And many screenings were packed. It’s really one of the only NYC festivals (other than the top tier ones like Tribeca and NYFF) that get actual audience attendance of not just the screening filmmakers.

As for our About a Donkey screening, we had a solid slot at 5:30pm on a Sunday. Our theater sat 68 people and it was completely sold out. Mostly friends, family and early supporters of the film were there, but also some other filmmakers of the festival and a couple strangers from the local community filled the room. The film looked and sounded spectacular, truly it was maybe out best screening in terms of quality; and it got a lot of laughs and wonderful reactions. Many comments after complimented the ensemble and the hopeful message of the film. One woman in particular thanked us for the non-stereotypical portrayal of struggling with depression, and another highlighted how wonderful it was to see women of different generations onscreen with fully-realized personalities and story-arcs (because it’s still such a rarity in mainstream movies, unfortunately). We also got a great review out of the screening on Unseen Films.

Our Q&A was fun, with a lot of great questions. Watch it below.

And to my surprise and great honor, the festival awarded me the Lois Weber Pioneer Award for leadership . I was genuinely not expecting it and got a little emotional as I gave a probably awkward speech. (See below)

Thanks again to Katha, Don, and the entire Queens World team! I hope to be back again next year with a new project. <3

-Christina

P.S. If you don’t know who Lois Weber is, fix that here. Also, if anyone has video of Katha’s introduction for the award, I’d love to see it. Her words were really lovely and I feel like I didn’t fully process the end of what she said after my name came onscreen.

Catch the film next at:

Queens World Film Festival Recap

Last week was the Queens World Film Festival, our favorite local fest and one of my (Christina's) favorite fests overall. We were lucky enough to have two shorts part of it this year, "Enough" and "Arm Bar." 

"Enough" screened Thursday night at Kaufman Astoria Studios as part of the #Women block. I'm usually a little skeptical of any block whose theme is just "women," as it usually implies it's the only block at the festival with films directed by women. But women directors were super represented all throughout the festival this year, and I was happy to see that my block featured 5 films unified by a kind of "women on the edge" theme - tackling struggles that don't specifically afflict women but were portrayed in nuanced ways that felt authentically and pointedly woman. The audience was small, only about 35 people, but not bad for 6pm on a weekday. And thankfully, the audience was engaged, with a well-run Q&A that artistically tackled the work. See the Q&A below. We cut out most of the other filmmakers' answers, as as to not spoil their films. But the discussion was great overall.

"Arm Bar" screened Sunday at the beautiful Museum of Moving Image theater in the Queens Corner block, which always closes out the festival and has the largest audience because it features 7 to 8 films all by Queens-based filmmakers. Usually the films are also all shot in Queens, but there were a couple in this lineup that weren't. It was a mixed bag but there were some some really excellent films in the mix. "Arm Bar" was super well received by the audience, with the brilliant Latresa Baker's gripping lead performance complimented during the Q&A. Watch the recap below. Again, we kept everyone's intro but only included Ryan's answers, so as to avoid spoilers for the other films. (Thanks QWFF volunteer Maggi Delgado for recording & sharing both videos.)

We hope to be back at Queens World with new work next year! Until then, our next screening will be at Blackbird in April with "Enough."

Revisiting Making "Two Gays & a Girl" & Festival Recaps

We shot "Two Gays & a Girl" back in July 2015. The idea was sparked when Kelsey and I were hanging out with Chris, gearing up to shoot our recently crowdfunded shorts "We Had Plans" & "Not Our Living Room" (both of which came about as a way to experiment with story form after Kelsey had gotten some worrisome personal news). Kelsey & I talked about doing another comedy series together after the shorts (at this point we were a year removed from shooting "Kelsey"), and we joked about basing it on the three of us and our friendship -- from there the title was born. We decided we'd put together a no-budget pilot presentation that would introduce the quirky characters we came up with. And if they and their dynamics resonated with an audience, we'd start talking storylines and see if we could get a series made. We figured it'd be ideal to just submit to NYTV Fest, see what happens, and then go from there. 

But production led to some mishaps. The performances were great and our usual small but mighty crew pulled it off in a weekend. But the biggest issue was our sound person bailing on us the morning we were to shoot an exterior walk & talk. Despite it being no-budget, we still had a bit of equipment rented or borrowed from friends, and everyone had cleared their busy schedules for the shoot this weekend specifically; so we had to follow through with shooting that day. Because of this, even though we had pretty solid sound overall, this scene was kind of a mess. It was a lesson learned, for sure. But we couldn't cut it from the final edit because it sets up most of the context for all the jokes in the second half of the pilot. So we cut the scene down as much as possible in the edit and did (DIY) ADR for what we needed to keep. I'm generally very against ADR from an indie filmmaking standpoint, but it was the better option over the terribly windy, changing-with-the-cuts original audio. We decided to submit to NYTV Fest anyway, despite knowing we didn't stand much of a chance with non-recognizable faces and some questionable audio. So then when we weren't accepted, I wasn't really sure what to do with it. I had largely stopped focusing on it creatively, having finally released Summit on VOD and was busy pushing that while having "Hello" on the festival circuit. And most importantly, Kelsey and I had moved on to starting development for our feature, About a Donkey. (I was also at the time on the verge of directing my new shorts "Night In" & "Enough," and producing Ryan's "Arm Bar." -- 2016 was a busy year, as is often the case for any year at CongestedCat.) 

I knew that the pilot didn't really work as well as a standalone short because it's more about introducing the key characters and setting up potential storylines rather than an actual contained story in itself. But I felt it was still fun and entertaining for what it is, so wanted to do something with it. I figured since it was shot in Queens, submitting to the Queens World Film Festival was a wise choice because it has that neighborhood feel; and I'm generally a supporter and believer in the mission behind that festival and the couple that runs it.

QUEENS WORLD FILM FESTIVAL RECAP

Screening in the beautiful Redstone theater at the Museum of the Moving Image was lovely. It was nice getting to see something I made with such a big audience in such high quality. The pilot got some laughs at the strongest moments, but I could definitely feel the weight of the runtime during the screening. As I knew in my gut, it doesn't quite work as a standalone short. I actually went home after and cut 4 minutes out of the final cut. Having the distance of not really watching it in a year and then seeing it with an audience helped confirm some beats I knew weren't working. Plus, no longer needing to hit the minimum runtime for a pilot competition allowed me to see it through my eyes as a director and less as a producer needing to meet specific qualifications. I couldn't cut too much without creating continuity issues and losing some of the setups for later punchlines; but even losing moments here and there that added up to 4 minutes really elevated it. As for the full festival, we didn't really get to experience it this year because we've been in production all month for About a Donkey. But the festival directors and associates were wonderful and welcoming as usual. I have to say, though, the Q&A was quite weird. They didn't give us mics in such a huge theater, made worse by the fact that I was losing my voice due to a cold. It didn't end up mattering, though, because it wasn't much of a Q&A. With 8 films in a straight lineup, I know from experience running IndieWorks that it's hard for an audience to process so many films and have a truly thoughtful conversation right after. And this block in particular was curated as having all Queens-based filmmakers as the only commonality, while genre and tone significantly varied. It should have been on the host to bring out the conversation against those challenges. But this host just opened it to the audience and then asked one rapid-fire question requiring us to identify which one of three (male) directors most inspired us in making our screened film. I think that was the question, anyway; it was hard to hear and awkwardly posed -- plus I was distracted asking Kelsey if she wanted to answer since my raspy voice wouldn't be audible. In any case, none of the directors he insisted on us answering with applied to our inclusive, comedy pilot; so I just made up my own answer, claiming Amy Sherman-Palladino as an inspiration. It felt appropriate since she is an inspiration both Kelsey & I have in common, and whose work matches the tone of our pilot; and I was determined to answer that question mentioning a woman. I will say that it's rare to experience a Q&A host that truly engages with each film in a specific and individual way (which is a big part of why I run IndieWorks the way I do), so I'm not singling Queens World out. It is worth noting, however, that of my three Q&A experiences at Queens World, I've had two older white male hosts and one younger queer black male host, and only one of them asked nuanced questions that pertained to my (and the other) film(s) in a personalized way. Can you guess which host that was? 

Anyway, as I said, not trying to knock Queens World. I do love the festival. They have way more class and integrity than most festivals, especially other local ones. And they're definitely not alone in this Q&A issue (in the past year of over a dozen festivals, the Ax Wound Film Fest Q&A experience is the only one I found truly insightful and well-run.) I just think what's the point of having a Q&A if it's not going to delve into the craft? Might as well just let the audience talk to the filmmakers afterwards if there will be no real conversation. Speaking of that, what was nice was that quite a few people came over after the Q&A and complimented the acting, and one person commented on how much he appreciated our use of color - putting bright colors against muted backgrounds - which is a cool thing only another filmmaker would make note of.

AltFest Recap

We had planned to only screen at Queens World, but the organizers of NewFilmmakers NY, who had invited our short "We Had Plans" last year, invited us to screen something again this year. I thought the pilot would be a nice fit for their AltFest (LGBTQ) series. So we decided one more screening for the cast & crew would be nice before releasing it online. Thankfully, I was able to get them the cut I had edited down in time to screen it instead of the original I sent. And I'm glad I did because it was cool getting to see the tighter version on another beautiful screen. There were only three films in this lineup, so the runtime in general felt less apparent - but even so, I could just tell the changes really helped the pace of the piece overall. The audience was small, only 10 people. The host (who's also the festival director) didn't attempt a real Q&A because of the crowd size but I appreciated his one-on-one attention, and he at least asked us what we're working on next and allowed us to plug our websites and all that good stuff. 

We plan to release it online at the end of next month after we're done shooting About a Donkey . In the meantime, check out the trailer! 

-Christina