Queens World Film Festival: Around the world, around the corner

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Filmmakers at the Queens World Film Festival receive recognition and applause for their hard work.
Filmmakers at the Queens World Film Festival receive recognition and applause for their hard work.

Elliot Lobell first fell in love with stop motion animation when he saw “Star Wars.” From that moment, he knew he wanted to be an animator.

One catch – he couldn’t draw.

Stop motion animation bridged the gap for the Queens native, bringing anything he dreamed to life. He created figures from clay, fabric and yarn, and these characters he enlivened with the adroit manipulation of a camera.

Lobell’s stop motion film, “Andrew: Story of a Closet Monster,” depicts the story of Sam, a little boy who befriends the monster living inside his closet.

It is just one of 130 films screened during the Queens World Film Festival (QWFF), an annual spectacle aggregating and celebrating the work of film makers from every corner of the Earth.

Artists, local officials and movie enthusiasts gathered at Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image for the festival’s opening night on Thursday, March 4.

Katha Cato, co-founder of the QWFF, buzzed around the museum’s lobby, greeting attendees and chatting with filmmakers, her vibrant energy invigorating.

“[You go to the QWFF] if you want to see stuff you can’t see anywhere else,” said Cato.

The celebration brings together the work of artists from various nations, including Korea, Spain, Japan and the United States. Cato feels the festival creates a sense of community, despite its participants’ varying hometowns.

“[The QWFF] means getting a chance to hear and see stories in a corporate setting,” said Cato. “This work is world-class caliber that you’d never see anywhere else.”

Funded almost entirely by Cato and her husband, Don, the festival has received assistance from two main sponsors, Amalgamated Bank and MPC properties. Regardless of finances, the number of films submitted to this year’s QWFF has nearly doubled since last year’s event.

“The QWFF is further proof that Queens is a cultural mecca in and of itself, and that amazing art and amazing films are created here and shown here, particularly in a venue like this,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who acts as chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee and is an avid supporter of the arts.

The first block of films, called “Unlikely Alliances,” included Lobell’s “Andrew: Story of a Closet Monster” and “War Story,” an Iranian piece about two soldiers and the futility of battle, following which, Councilmember Daniel Dromm received a commemoration award from the QWFF for his efforts in preserving the arts.

The second block of films, titled “Very Revealing,” included “Model Rules,” which depicted a nude model’s fantasy while struggling to come to terms with growing older, “Easy Street,” a young lawyer’s interview gone awry, and “Something Left, Something Taken,” a fresh, animated flick about a young couple visiting San Francisco who wind up in a car, driven by a possible serial killer.

Lloyd Kaufman, President of TROMA Entertainment, received the QWFF Spirit of Queens Filmmaker Honoree Award for his contributions to the world of cinema over the past 40 years. A montage of some of Kaufman’s films — edgy, erotic and extreme — was shown.

The final block of movies, called “To Love Again,” featured three films centered on romance and relationships. “Can’t Dance,” told the story of widowed neighbors, aiming for a second chance at happiness. “No Existe El Adios,” entirely in Spanish, depicted love at its various stages. The last film of the evening, the well-acted and emotionally-driven “Queen,” detailed a drag queen’s heartfelt yet unsuccessful attempts to adopt a baby.

Over the next four days, the QWFF hopped from venue to venue, showing movies at the Jackson Heights Cinema, the Renaissance Charter School and P.S. 69, all in an ardent attempt to preserve, cultivate and expand the presence of film in Queens.