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Queens World Film Festival lights up Astoria: A night of global filmmakers and local cheers for the 13th season

The 2024 Filmmakers at MoMI (Photo: QWFF)

Apr. 19, 2024 By Iryna Shkurhan

Queens World Film Festival brought together dozens of featured filmmakers for a warm, welcoming night to kick off its 13th season. 

Most of the filmmakers were able to attend in person on Tuesday evening at Sac’s Place in Astoria, just next door to the Museum of Moving Image and Kaufman Studios, where the films will premiere over the next two weeks. But the dozen or so filmmakers from all over the world who couldn’t make it in person joined the conversation through a live stream. 

Some of them will be appearing in Queens in person throughout the festival, while others could not make the trip for various reasons, including being in the process of filming their next films. The remote filmmakers spoke from different time zones in Italy, the Philippines, Iran and Poland while others tuned in from New Jersey and Florida. 

Executive Director Katha Cato and Artistic Director Preston Cato took the hybrid gathering as an opportunity to present some awards early, particularly to two returning filmmakers who will not be able to attend the festival in person this year but made a notable impact on the selection committee with their work. 

“It’s our job to really support the creativity and the power of the filmmaking industry in New York,” said Pat Swinney Kaufman, who serves as the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) and attended the welcoming night. “We are a city that loves production and loves to be a part of the whole creation of all that art and all that culture.”

Kaufman was proud to point out that 67 of the 152 films premiering came from filmmakers in NYC, and 27 of the films are from filmmakers in Queens. 

“But whether or not you made your film in NYC, your presence at this festival really does shine a light on what we always say about NYC – that this city is a global center for creativity and film production,” added Kaufman. 

The speakers also pointed out that it hasn’t been an easy few years for those working in the film industry. After years of being taken by the pandemic, the labor strikes arrived, keeping more people out of work. However, the filmmakers themselves persevered and crafted notable projects in unprecedented times. 

Raphael Escolar’s film “Hebe: An Exploration of The Real, The Illusory and Extrasensory  Perceptions” is premiering at the MOMI on Apr. 25. It chronicles a woman with a gift of premonitions, which is inspired by true events, according to the synopsis. 

He was awarded the Queens World Film Festival Auteur Award and the Best Ensemble Award, leaving Escolar speechless at the recognition. 

“Myself and the committee decided that it’s very important for us to recognize the work that you’ve done this year,” said Preston. “It is truly an amazing piece of work. This just knocked me out of my chair.”

Monica Lisa Stambrini was awarded the special jury prize in documentary filmmaking. Her film, “Chutzpah – Something About Modesty and Shame,” will premiere on Apr. 22 at Zukor Theatre as part of the Bare Essentials: 3 Films That Hide Nothing bloc. 

“This most impressive, insolent, cheeky, impertinent and humbling honest autobiography offers us an ever-changing perspective of the creative in crisis while constantly requiring the viewer to question their own circumstances,” said Preston Cato about Stambrini’s newest film. 

As a second-time participant in the festival, she also won an award in 2016 for best short narrative director for her film “Queen Kong,” a pornographic fantasy film. Stambrini, who was zooming in from Italy, mentioned that another documentary is already in the works. 

Katha Cato pointed out that despite 23% of the films submitted to the festival being made by women—lower than in years past—40% of screenings are of women-made films. 

“I’d like to note that when selecting films, gender has no meaning whatsoever,” Preston Cato chimed in. 

Other filmmakers streaming in also had the chance to briefly discuss their work and express their feelings about the festival. 

“It’s a short film that’s not even that crazy, but it could put me in jail for a few years,” said Meryem Lahlou, whose film ‘I am Illegal’ is about the invisible queer community in Morocco. 

The duo will announce more awards on Apr. 28, the final day of the film festival. 

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