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The world comes to Queens for fifth annual film festival

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Jackson Heights filmmaker Lisa Melodia has screened her work at the Palm Spring and Nantucket film festivals, but no matter the locale, once the closing credits roll inevitably a man in the theater wants to know what the movie was about.

“There is always one male in the audience who is really confused,” Melodia said. “One guy is always asking questions to try to figure out the plot.”

She expects there may be more than one confused man at the Museum of the Moving Image when her short-feature “Big Girl” is shown March 17, during the opening night of the fifth annual Queens World Film Festival.

The 15-minute film follows a 6-year-old girl on a day when her mother lies to keep her out of school. Melodia shot the film in 2013 around Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island.

As a woman, naturally Melodia writes from a female point of view, but in “Big Girl,” the audience will experience the world as seen from a young girl’s eyes.

“That perspective is not typical,” Melodia said.

Another opening night movie comes from animator Jamil Lahham, who also likes to tell stories from his unique point of view.

Originally from the Middle East, Lahham arrived in the United States about 10 years ago, and lived in five different states before settling in Astoria in 2012.

Lahham works as an animation director creating pieces for corporate clients.

“The outcome is usually so watered-down when working for the mainstream media,” Lahham said. “During the day, I work with 3-D animation, and I wanted to go the more traditional route and draw each frame.”

The result, “Dirty Laundry Day,” is both funny and disturbing at the same time.

Lahham uses a joke from legendary comedian George Carlin as his starting point.

“He has this one-liner, ‘I put a dollar in a change machine, and nothing changed,’” Lahham said. “I needed to do the quote justice.”

In the film, which runs slightly less than six minutes, the main character, who does not speak, plugs dollar bills into a change machine and is amazed at what happens to him and his surroundings.

But of course, while some things change for the better, others do not. And ultimately, the character learns change is not free.

Audiences have equally embraced and vilified Lahham’s creation.

“Some people liked it and some people were offended,” Lahham said. “I think you’re doing your job right when people don’t like it or are offended. You have stimulated something within that person.”

For Queens World Film Festivals founders, Don and Katha Cato, “Big Girl” and “Dirty Laundry Day” are true to the festival’s raison d’etré.

“It is something that hasn’t been seen before,” Katha Cato said, “and it maintains its vision throughout.”

The Catos run the film festival from their Jackson Heights home.

Submissions pour in from around the world and a panel of five judges, including Don Cato, wade through them all. This year, the judges viewed more than 400 submitted works to select the 117, including 19 by Queens filmmakers, that will be screened during the six-day festival.

“This is the fifth year, and the quality of the films gets better and better each year,” Don Cato said.

The center piece of this year’s festival will be a screening of “Bitter Sugar,” from Cuba. This 1996 anti-Castro work has been restored from the original negative and will be followed by a discussion with the film’s director, Leon Ichaso. Another highlight will be the closing night film, “Dukhtar,” which was Pakistan’s official entry for the 87th Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

“We are not trying to get glitzy,” Katha Cato said. “We are focused on getting better, not bigger yet.”

If you Go

Queens World Film Festival

When: Tuesday, March 17 - Sunday, March 22

Where: Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria; The Secret Theatre, Long Island City; and PS 69, Jackson Heights

Cost: $12/adults, $9/seniors and students for single screenings; $30/four-pack screening; $70/festival pass; $100/festival pass plus opening and closing night screenings

Contact: (718) 429-2579

Website: www.queensworldfilmfestival.com

Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimmerman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4541.

Posted 12:00 am, March 15, 2015
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