From October 1 to 4, film fans can roll into the Gate 4 parking lot at St. John’s University in Queens for a nightly fix of independent movies from across the globe. The lineup features a selection of 28 films, each set to tower over attendees as they are projected onto a five-story screen.
“As a filmmaker and actor, I understand the importance of having your film shown on a big screen to a live audience,” says Festival of Cinema founder Jayson Simba. “While I have nothing against virtual events, part of the appeal of having your film play at a festival is to be able to sit amongst your peers who are there to watch your film with you.
“It also works vice-versa,” he adds, noting that more than half of the filmmakers being screened are planning to attend the festival themselves. “There's something special about going to see a movie and knowing that the director and cast are in the audience with you.”
Thursday’s opening night highlights 11 short films by New York City filmmakers, including “Anonymous,” a project dealing with recovery from addiction directed by Michael Cutrone of Forest Hills.
Friday night will include the East Coast premiere of feature thriller “Goodbye Honey” by director Max Strand.
On Saturday, Festival of Cinema NYC welcomes families for a first block full of animated films such as “Mosely,” which casts the voices of John Rhys-Davies, Lucy Lawless and director Kirby Atkins. The late night block boasts seven international shorts.
The festival rounds out on Sunday with the Queens debut of Hasan Oswald’s powerful feature documentary “Higher Love,” as well as two documentary shorts.
Simba started the Festival of Cinema back in 2016 (it was then called Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema), in the hopes of providing a platform for local filmmakers and filling a void for Queens, which lacked its own full-stop event honoring movies similar to those in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Within a year, Regal Cinemas signed on as a sponsor, rebranding the event and moving it to its current home in Forest Hills.
Similarly, Simba aims to fill yet another void, this time one created by the pandemic.
“This year has been unprecedented with conditions that no one could have predicted,” he explains. “Arts and cultural institutions in particular have had to reimagine and redesign the way they deliver content, which unfortunately has resulted in many people having to enjoy the arts alone at home, instead of in the company of like-minded individuals.”
Simba got the idea to host a drive-in experience in February, as the city braced for a coronavirus outbreak that was beginning to worsen. However, as a small nonprofit Festival of Cinema didn’t yet have the resources to move forward with that vision.
Fortunately, the festival was able to connect with St. John’s University for a partnership and is now focused on bringing to Queens a unique and uplifting cinematic experience.
Attendees will receive the red carpet treatment - a 20-foot red carpet to be exact - upon arrival, complete with photographers and a “ride-and-repeat” from the safety of their vehicles.
And while a drive-in can’t exactly replace the rush of face-to-face interaction, says Simba, the festival will represent a step in the right direction for moviegoers.
“Beside a feeling of satisfaction,” he says, “I want viewers to walk away with a sense of hope.”
To purchase tickets and discover more about the 2020 Festival of Cinema NYC, visit festivalofcinemanyc.com