3rd Annual Festival of Cinema NYC: Hosted Brave, Brash, and Beautiful Films

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Photo: Courtesy of Festival of Cinema NYC

Festival of Cinema NYC has wrapped its 3rd season – and it was a season replete with films tackling trauma, love, and hope with authenticity. Cinema fanatics from not just Queens (host location), but all over the world were treated to more than 125 films, relentlessly holding audiences’ emotions hostage and settling up well-deserved ransoms at the end of each screening with sensational works of art.

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Photo: Courtesy of Red Dress. Red Straps film

This years’ roster of indie shorts held their own and commanded as much attention as their full-length narrative features and documentary counterparts. The films that merit mention: Red Dress, Red Straps, Keylight, and Coffee and a Donut – brief in presentation, robust with long-lasting, heart-felt and controversial themes that permeated well after their screenings. Red Dress. Red Straps by director Maryam Mohajer follows the story of a young girl in her grandparents’ home in the midst of Iran-Iraq war in 1985. She’s enamored by a pretty pop star’s red dress she sees on television all the while listening to her grandfather’s favorite radio program spouting “Death to America” chants. The child is nonetheless consumed with how the dress her grandmother is making for her will turn out during this upheaval in her life. The whimsical animation touching upon war, coupled with a child’s perception of the world she lives in is bittersweet and enchanting. Red Dress. No Straps was produced in the U.K. and won the Best Animation award from the 11th annual NYC Independent Film Festival. To learn more about Red Dress. Red Straps, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Keylight film

Keylight by director Simon Kay begins with former child star Sarah, (Samantha Strelitz) about to audition when she’s suddenly confronted with what seems like stage fright but turns out to be thoughts of a traumatic incident in her past she’s incapable of letting go. Sarah finds a way to channel this experience to bring forth her best stage performance – but via dark introspective means. Winning the Festival of Cinema NYC’s Best Cinematography Award, Keylight offers a fresh perspective on how people can address past trauma to release cathartic enlightening and rise above it. To learn more about Keylight, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Coffee and a Donut film

Finally, the last narrative short that resonated with me was Coffee and a Donut by director Cary Patrick Martin. The story is about a young Spanish-speaking immigrant (Memo), whom after hearing a patron request a coffee and a donut at a local diner, perpetually asks for the same order because it’s the only English phrase he’s learned. He suffers in silence as he watches others order mouth-watering pancakes and the like – until he meets a fellow Spanish-speaking customer (Rocio Mendez) that helps him learn English, but not without some hiccups. This short film has resonated with audiences as it explores the universal immigrant experience of adapting to a new country they now call home; it’s sweet, funny and empathetic; a film so vital in today’s current political climate, particularly with the current administration’s animosity towards immigrants. Actress Rocio Mendez received this year’s Festival of Cinema NYC Best Supporting Actress Award. To learn more about Coffee and a Donut, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Over 18: A Documentary About Porn film

Documentaries must be given their spotlight too. After all they focus on topics that are rarely covered in mainstream films. This year’s standouts: Over 18: A Documentary About Porn and The Queens. Over 18 by directors Jared Brock and Michelle Brock chronicle the life of Joseph, a 13 year-old boy recovering from a porn addiction since age 9. Shocking? Absolutely. As the film progresses and shares eye-opening data, the more disturbing it becomes. The filmmakers examine the correlation between the Internet and the easy accessibility children have to porn sites with inadequate, limited restrictions; the male porn stars and companies who’ve profited and continue to make money from pornography, the female stars exploited and left to pick up the pieces – post porn work, and most importantly, the devastating effects and consequences porn addiction can have on children and adults. The directors did a fantastic job of interviewing subjects to discuss their roles in porn culture – specifically content, distribution and consumption; and what ultimately needs to change to safeguard children’s accessibility. To learn more about Over 18: A Documentary About Porn, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of The Queens film

The Queens documentary introduces audiences to a whirlwind of female impersonators and female illusionists around the country vying for the coveted title of Miss Continental. The national pageant, founded by Jim Flint in 1980, is held annually in Chicago and has preliminary qualifying Miss Continental contests around the country and the world. Forget everything you’ve heard or know about traditional pageants. The true super stars are the contestants in this documentary. Filmmaker Mark Saxenmeyer follows contestants that have invested tens of thousands in becoming Miss Continental; the dance routines they create and practice; the lavish costumes and makeup they spend money on; the perseverance they posses is immeasurable. Saxenmeyer delves into the culture of female impersonators and what’s at stake for them to follow their dreams with grace and integrity. To learn more about The Queens, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Quest: The Truth Always Rises film. L to R, Dash Mihok as Tim and Greg Kasyan as Mills.

In a film festival, more often than not, there’s a film that makes you stop, reflect and ponder for a while what you just saw. For me, this film was: Quest: The Truth Always Rises. Quest, written and directed by Santiago Rizzo, is autobiographical. Rizzo’s character Mills is played by Greg Kasyan. Kasyan (Netflix’s “Daybreak”) portrays a troubled teen in Los Angeles from an abusive home that seems destined for doom with tremendous grit and vulnerability. The teen is a graffiti artist and is talented in his tagging pursuits and expresses interest in school, but lashes out, as he internalizes the consistent physical and verbal abuse his stepfather (Lou Diamond Phillips) bestows on him. There’s a teacher and football coach that takes notice of his behavior and attempts to befriend the youth, albeit with resistance, but ultimately changes his life. The educator played by Dash Mihok (Showtime’s “Ray Donovan”) shows a display of compassion and lack of judgment so admirable and mirrors Rizzo’s true-life mentor, Tim Moellering. Mihok interprets the character with great stoicism and sincerity and the audience can’t help but root for both student and teacher. Receiving Best Feature Narrative at this year’s Festival of Cinema NYC, I can’t recommend this film enough. We need more stories like these to be told and raise awareness of troubled youth, the good these films can do to improve their lives and impact change. I impart Santiago Rizzo’s words from his emotional post-film Q&A: “Trust Your Struggle.” To learn more about Quest: The Truth Always Rises, click here.

Festival of Cinema NYC’s name was recently changed from Kew Gardens Film Festival to promote film submissions globally. The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and Governor Andrew Cuomo recently acknowledged the tremendous strides the festival is making to promote filmmakers and their work, and the free programming film panels and workshops events they sponsored in New York City. To learn more about Festival of Cinema NYC, click here.

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Rawness and Unconventionality Captured The Essence of The 22nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival

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Opening Night, 22nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival

This year’s Brooklyn Film Festival broke new ground with superb storytelling. And, we couldn’t get enough of it. According to the festival’s Executive Director, Marco Ursino, “BFF featured the largest presence of female directors within a single festival edition to date. I’m also proud to say that four out of our six festival programmers are women and the festival is run mostly by women.” What a refreshing and revitalizing statement from a male festival organizer. Time will tell if other male festival directors will follow suit with domestic and international film festivals in the future. Brooklyn Film Festival’s (BFF) roster of films included 133 features and shorts from over 30 countries spread over six continents. The lineup included 37 world premieres, 29 east coast debuts and 34 first-time screenings in NY.  In addition to the 13 narrative features and 10 documentary features, the festival presented 39 short narrative films, 23 short documentaries, 28 animated films and 20 experimental projects.

Documentaries at their core are meant to raise awareness and provide a candid journalistic perspective on subjects completely devoid of mainstream coverage. The documentaries that rose to the occasion in this year’s festival are: Clean Hands and RocKabul.

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The Lopez Children At La Chureca, Photo: Courtesy of Clean Hands Press Site

Clean Hands, directed by Michael Dominic, follows a family in Nicaragua over the span of seven years (2011-2018) living in extreme poverty and relying on a garbage dump, La Chureca (Central America’s largest garbage dump) for food and everyday necessities. When we first meet the 4 children in the Lopez family, they are aged 6 – 10, unable to read and write and depend on each other for companionship and engage in sibling rivalry. They are unaware of a better life, unlike their parents. When they receive an opportunity from a foundation to move into a new home on the condition that the kids go to school, the family seems destined for a bright future until other underlying problems set in. Dominic’s storytelling is raw, and depicts his subjects as they are. The director captures moments that are heart-wrenching in its portrayal of this family and lets audiences experience the highs and lows with them. In the end: you’re rooting for the Lopez family instead of pitying them.

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L to R: Qais (Guitarist), Pedram (Drums), Yousef (Vocals), Qasem (Bass), Lemar (Vocals/Guitar) Photo: Courtesy of Rockabul Press Site

In RocKabul, Australian director/journalist, Travis Beard goes on a journey with the first metal band in Afghanistan: District Unknown. What’s so interesting and compelling about this movie is the universal love for music these subjects exhibit. Whether you love metal or not, you will be immediately drawn in by these subject’s relentless pursuit of their passion for music – a passion that is frowned upon by the conservative and extremist government of Afghanistan. Beard, having lived in Kabul for seven years, and a metal musician as well, injects himself in the documentary as an advocate and mentor for the group. District Uknown’s story is bittersweet as Beard chronicles the band’s discovery of rock music, playing an international festival in India, and capturing Kabul’s underground party scene. The band members face insurmountable threats by the Afghani system and ultimately must make a decision on the future of the band.

Two narrative features that boldly address unconventional themes in their films and were awarded Certificates of Achievement by the Brooklyn Film Festival this year are: #LIKE for Best Producer Award and Only Good Things for Best Original Score Award. Both directed by female filmmakers. These films are true standouts in their own right.

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Actress Sarah Rich As Rosie, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

In #LIKE, director Sarah Pirozek begins the story with the aftermath of suicide brought on by cyberbullying and the family members left to pick up the pieces, one year later. In this instance, it’s Rosie’s point-of-view, a teen from Woodstock New York confronted with the harsh reality that the anonymous man whom bullied her younger sister into committing suicide is back on the prowl trolling for new victims online. After getting nowhere with the local police and realizing their lack of interest to prosecute her sister’s assailant, Rosie decides to seek retribution. This is more than a vengeance-thriller film. Pirozek is smart to keep Rosie’s teenage perspective with every action and decision she makes – even if detrimental. We empathize with her situation and revel in the psychological exploration of captor vs. captee.

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Cast of Only Good Things, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Only Good Things (Solo cose Belle) by director Kristian Gianfreda is delightful all around. The premise: a popular 16-year old teen starts to question her loyalties and character when a bizarre family moves into her small town of Rimini, Italy. Unwanted and stigmatized by town regulars and her own mother, father, who’s the mayor of the village; Benedetta can’t – in good conscience – follow the pack and mistreat her new neighbors that are quite odd, but familial and loving nonetheless. As Benedetta’s moral compass keeps getting tested, the surprise ending will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. No wonder this film won the festival’s Achievement of Certificate for Best Original Score Award for composer, Bevano Est.

Two shorts in the documentary and narrative categories that left me smiling and hopeful are One Leg In, One Leg Out and Dunya’s Day.

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One Leg In, One Leg Out, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

One Leg In, One Leg Out, won Best Documentary Short at the Brooklyn Film Festival this year. The film is about a transgender female (Iman) sex worker who dreams about becoming a social worker to help her fellow transgender community. Canadian Director Lisa Rideout follows Iman as she seeks out johns on the street and interacts with them on the phone. Iman is skilled at her job, but knows her profession has a limited shelf life. In pursuit of bigger things, she seeks information about a social work program and seriously considers the career change. Rideout aptly lets the audience get to know Iman with no preconceived notions. The film paints the transgender subject in a positive light – especially in the era we are living in, where LGTBQ rights are being stripped away by the U.S. government and attacks against the group have increased exponentially.

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Sara Balghonaim as Dunya, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Dunya’s Day, a narrative short by writer/director Raed Alsemari pokes fun at Dunya, a well-to-do Saudi Arabian woman who is in the midst of having her college graduation party and is abandoned by her help staff. Who doesn’t want to see entitled people struggle? I suspect just the entitled. Even through her desperate attempts to save her soiree, Dunya still wants to be perceived as “having it together” and a gracious host by her rival affluent friends. It’s comedic timing is spot on. Dunya’s Day is the winner of Sundance’s Short Film Jury Award for International Fiction at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

The Brooklyn Film Festival has been supporting competitive film events since 1998 to drive worldwide attention to Brooklyn as a purveyor of stellar cinema and independent filmmaking. This year the 22nd Brooklyn Film Festival collaborated with several South American film organizations: Proimagenes (Colombia), ChileDocs, IMCINE (Mexico), Universidad del Cine (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Festival Internacional del Cine Buenos Aires (FIDBA), Cinema Tropical and Proyector Film Series to increase Latin American film submissions. I’ll be waiting with bated breath to see what’s in store for 2020. To learn more about the Brooklyn Film Festival, click here.

 

 

 

Rock The Vote: Teen Vogue X TOMS Event Slayed! – Politically and Socially

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Photo: Courtesy of TOMS, Rock the Vote Attendees at the New TOMS Williamsburg, Brooklyn Store

Covering the Rock the Vote: Teen Vogue X TOMS event has been one of the most thrilling moments for me this year. Why? It was unexpectedly delightful and inspirational. It moved me to act; to care more; to save our democracy; to donate; to tweet and raise awareness about the impact of the midterms and how each of us – really can make a difference. I had this preconceived notion that this event, geared toward Teen Vogue’s Gen Z audience, a far cry from my hazy Generation X/ millennial cusp residency, wouldn’t be relatable to me. Thoughts of ill-conceived, potentially overheard conversations I’d be succumbed to, filled my head: From Cardi B’s/Nicki Minaj’s latest feud-y clap-backs to the best unicorn hair color dye brands on the market. Boy, was I proven wrong. I was surrounded by teens and girls in their early twenties that had founded nonprofits for trans youth in need, created grassroots organizations to get women elected, and launched crowdsourcing campaigns for victims of gun violence. These girls have powerful messages to convey: Get ready. We are changing the world!

Founded in 2003 by parent company Condé Nast, Teen Vogue still caters to fashion lovers, keeping up with the beauty and fashion trends, its sister magazine, Vogue exemplifies as the beacon of  high fashion and beauty . These days, Teen Vogue, primarily a digital magazine, captures the attention and support of political and social activists. According to Alli Maloney, Teen Vogue’s news and politics features editor: “We cover news as it happens. But we also cover things that we reframe in a new lens. We get pushback every day basically with people telling us to stay in our lane, but our readers’ lane includes politics now. It’s a political world.” And on this night the political world took center stage. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was the guest speaker for the Rock the Vote discussion, moderated by Teen Vogue’s news and politics editor, Lucy Diavolo. Gillibrand, who began her political career in Congress in 2006, ran for an incumbent held Republican seat, which she defeated, and in 2009 became Senator of New York State.

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Photo: Courtesy of TOMS, from L to R, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and News+ Politics Editor, Lucy Diavolo

Gillibrand, who’s seat is also up for re-election, didn’t shy away from audience questions on our failed political system under-serving Americans. She acknowledged the system is broken and that young people, women, people of color need to take action to see themselves represented in the House and Senate. The work is tireless and essential to protecting people’s rights for adequate healthcare, education, and women’s reproductive rights. Gillibrand became the first member of Congress to post her official daily meetings, and personal financial disclosures. Her push for transparency in politics led to the passing of the STOCK act, which makes it illegal for members of Congress, their families, and their staff to benefit from insider information gained through public service. Diavolo posed questions to Gillibrand on the minds of many Americans right now: What are the pressing issues, if Democrats take back the House and Senate, that will take precedence? Is she running for president in 2020? What are some bipartisan solutions both parties can agree on and pursue – with gun reform regulation? And of course, with Trump’s proposed agenda to erase Transgender rights, especially affecting trans youth. I asked Lucy, as a transgendered journalist, her thoughts on the following:

DSMC: In a Teen Vogue article from October 24th, you wrote: “As I said in the speech I gave during the Hell No to the Memo rally on Sunday, October 21, I believe voting alone is not enough right now. I believe it is important to go beyond the polling booth and provide direct, material support to transgender people.” Can you elaborate on this statement? What do you mean by “material support?”

Lucy Diavolo: In terms of providing material support to transgender people, I think there’s a number of options. As I wrote on the 22nd, it can be as simple as just checking in on your trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming friends with a kind word, calling a congressperson, or educating your family and friends. In terms of material support, simple things like donating directly to a trans person, taking the time to make a trans friend a meal, helping them cook or clean, giving them a place to crash if they don’t have one, or weighing in on a job application can all be very direct ways to do so.

DSMC: Should the proposed Trump bill reversing Obama-era protections for LGBTQ citizens be instated, what can the LGTBQ community and their supporters do to fight back?

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Photo: Courtesy of TOMS, Lucy Diavolo, News + Politics Editor, Teen Vogue

Lucy Diavolo: If you’re talking about the transgender HHS memo, absolutely not. Under Obama, the LGBTQ community saw serious progress made at the federal level for the first time in history — it’s a low bar, but Obama (like many Democrats) changing his tune on marriage equality and standing up for trans kids in schools was unprecedented. Many of us believed a Trump presidency would undo much of that progress, and the HHS memo was the latest horrifying proof that the current administration is actively engaged in looking for ways to strip our community’s basic human rights.

Lucy Diavolo: Whether you’re a binary trans person, a non-binary trans person, or experiencing your gender in other ways, know that you’re valid. Being young and trans (or any kind of queer) in a hostile environment can be very challenging. I know because I was outed as bisexual in the 8th grade and spent most of high school suffering for it. My best advice for a young person in a situation like that is to look for community where you can. It can be online, where there are lots of great community spaces for learning and having conversations. Or it can be in the other folks who might be struggling at your school, who can commiserate with you over your situation, even if it’s when no one else is listening. A sense of community has made even the most difficult, painful, and ugly parts of my transition feel safe and supported.

If you find yourself in a truly untenable situation, know that, in many cities, there are people, social services, and communities that will support you. Young LGBTQ people have been running to the cities for decades, and in many places, there are not only organizations working to serve them, but entire populations of older LGBTQ folks who want to support them. Look for those organizations and people in online spaces if you feel you absolutely have to get away from wherever you are.

Apart from curating news and politics for Teen Vogue’s monthly 5 million plus monthly visitors to the site, Diavolo help founded the Transfeminine Alliance of Chicago and plays bass in the Chicago-based band The Just Luckies.

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Photo: Courtesy of TOMS

Rock the Vote event host and Teen Vogue advocate, TOMS, opened their new store/café – complete with an outside patio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. DSMC asked TOMS’ Director of Global Brand Marketing, Kate Faith, to discuss the – successful and impactful – Teen Vogue and TOMS collaboration.

DSMC: TOMS has partnered with Teen Vogue in the past, the recent Teen Vogue Summit in Austin last month, what makes this partnership so special?

Kate Faith: Our partnership with Teen Vogue started last year with the first ever Teen Vogue Summit where we hosted the opening day reception at TOMS HQ in Los Angeles. To continue this partnership, this year we hosted meet ups at our TOMS stores across America including Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, and finally at our new store here in Brooklyn. Teen Vogue is educating and inspiring young people to take action, which is at the heart of what we’re doing here at TOMS. We both know that Gen Z has the power and courage to change the world. We are here to support Teen Vogue as they rally the next generation to create a better world for us all.

DSMC: With over 60 million pairs of shoes donated to children around the world so far, what does TOMS hope to establish with the one-for-one model eyewear? Is eyewear as scarce as shoes around the world? Why this product line?

Kate Faith: Since our founding in 2006, TOMS has given over 80 million pairs of shoes to those in need both abroad and here in the United States. That number is something we’re very proud of, but we also recognize we can do more and have the opportunity to scale our impact beyond our shoe gives. TOMS launched eyewear in 2011 as we saw a need to help more people in a new way that would make a very big difference in their lives. During Blake’s travels, he saw many kids who weren’t able to see the chalkboard at school so would fall behind and elderly people developing cataracts which affected their work life and the livelihood of their family. Wanting to find a solution, he came up with TOMS eyewear – with every pair of sun and optical purchased, a person is provided an eye exam and given treatment through prescription glasses, medical treatments, or sight-saving surgery. We have now provided sight to over 600,000 individuals around the world. I recently was in India on a Giving Trip and was able to witness a cataract surgery first hand. It was incredibly moving to see people’s reactions when their bandages came off and they were able to see their loved ones – some for the first time! I’m proud to work at a company that is creating this level of impact in the world.

DSMC: Does TOMS support/endorse certain politicians for the midterms?

Kate Faith: Our #1 objective is to inspire and educate young people around the importance of using their voice to create positive change. Voting is one (very important) avenue for people to address the issues they care about most, and we want to provide the tools for people to make informed decisions when heading to the polls. We don’t endorse specific politicians, but our hope is that elected officials support basic human rights for all individuals. We are in this together and must create a world that works better for all of us. To learn more about TOMS global work and products, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of TOMS, Attendees at the Rock The Vote Teen Vogue X TOMS Event

This event opened my eyes to a whole new group of passionate activists that are committed to making a difference in our nation. I had once solely perceived them as meme-creating, snap-chat happy simplistic youth consumed with finding the perfect selfie. Sure, they may engage in these activities on their down-time, as most of us have, but they are laser-focused on championing for causes that are vital to their generation and ours.