The Reel Queens: Astoria filmmakers bring Queens-set short to New York

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A husband-and-wife filmmaking team from Astoria will make their East Coast debut this month at the New York City International Film Festival with a screening of their short film “Text Me,” which will also be shown in Times Square.

The film, which was shot at an Italian restaurant on Broadway in Astoria, follows the story of two teenagers who connect on Facebook and then meet in person only to find out they had both misrepresented themselves online. The restaurant they choose also happens to be mob-owned.

Astoria’s Daniel Lir, 35, who made the film with his wife, Bayou Bennett, 34, said the duo came up with the idea for the short after Bennett, who is a professor of cinema´╗┐, gave specific instructions to one of her classes.

“On her syllabus, she writes, ‘No texting or Facebooking in class,’” Lir said. “The movie is a comment on communication in the modern digital culture. These days, with such advanced technology, people are becoming less likely to communicate face-to-face.”

Lir said he and his wife shot the movie in an Italian restaurant in Astoria, but did not want to give the eatery’s name.

“It was an amazing location,” he said. “It was almost like a set. But when we got there to shoot the film, the owner saw our crew. He put on this crazy accent and said, ‘I’m offended you came here with this professional crew.’ We´╗┐ wanted us to pay an additional $1,000. He kept saying, ‘I’m not trying to put any pressure on you. Just do the right thing.’ It was stressful.”

But Lir said he and his wife loved using their western Queens neighborhood as the film’s backdrop.

“In Queens, people are really cool and open-minded to making films there,” he said. “I wanted to make a film in my neighborho­od.”

The film stars Matt Bennett, of Nickelodeon’s hit TV series “Victorious,” who will also be seen this fall in the Will Ferrell-produced “The Virginity Hit.”

“Text Me” will screen Aug. 14 at the New York City International Film Festival at 2 p.m., but will also be shown on a large screen in Times Square during an event for which the date has yet to be set.

The short film was named Best Comedy at the Indie Short Film Competition and Third Screen Film Festival 2010 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and was a finalist at IndieProducer in Los Angeles. It has been picked up for distribution by IndieFlix and is available both for streaming and on DVD.

“I’m hoping a lot of teenagers see the film and say, ‘Oh, my God, that’s me, I have to stop texting,’” Lir said.

Lir said Queens provides a source of inspiration for many of his films.

“New York is a rat-race city,” he said. “So, we’ll hop on the 7 train and head out to Queens’ ethnic neighborhoods. We like to be transported and are inspired as filmmakers. We get a lot of movie ideas that come up just by hanging out in Queens, whether it’s the Latino neighborhoods along Roosevelt Avenue or the Indian neighborhood of Jackson Heights.”

The couple has made several short films, a documentary about musician “Washboard” Leo Thomas and, now, they are planning to shoot a feature called “Skateboard­ing with Saddam” that will be set in Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, Israel.

Set amid the Gulf War, it tells the story of a young Californian who travels to Israel and hooks up with a group of skateboarders, as well as a girl, in Tel Aviv. But after former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait, he must choose whether to stay in the Middle East or return to the United States.

“It’s about deciding whether to make a sacrifice for friendship,” he said.

Read film reviews by Nathan Duke at criticalconditions.net.

Updated 6:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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