This year was my first year attending the Lower East Side Film Festival, and I was not disappointed. Amidst the whirlwind of independent festivals that happen throughout New York and cities around the world, it’s refreshing to attend one that holds onto the quintessential essence of being low key, and highbrow. I initially found out about the festival while mindlessly staring into space towards a wall while waiting for the beloved R train somewhere in Brooklyn in the wee hours of the night. It took a few minutes of gazing into mental nothingness before my eyes started to actually focus and realize that I was staring at a poster for the 2016 LESFF. Having always held an indefatigable love of film and art festivals, I took a picture for a later google search and was able to attend and speak with some prominent people who represent what this festival had to offer.
The winners of the festival were released last Thursday night as part of the closing night party in which most of the writers, filmmakers, producers, and curators attended to celebrate. The panel of judges who announced the winners included Ethan Hawke (“Boyhood”), casting director & producer Cindy Tolan (“Straight Outta Compton,”), Steve Farneth (Cinetic Media), Raul Castillo (HBO series “Looking” member LABryinth Theatre).
Among the winners were:
-Best Feature film: Americana (Written & Directed by Zachary Shedd)
-Best Live Action Short film: Killer (Written & Directed by Matt Kazman)
-Best of Fest – The LESFF Prix D’Or: Art of the Prank (Written & Directed by Andrea Marini)
-LESFF Audience Award: The Babymooners (Written & Directed by Shaina Feinberg & Chris Manley)
The festival started 6 years ago in a storefront on Norfolk St with a cramped space, holding about 30 folding chairs and a pull down screen creating a makeshift theatre space. The landlord of that space was acquainted with the 4-pack of now festival directors and allowed them to try to make something of the tight storefront space for a month- the inception of the low key fest. It’s always refreshing to hear stories of growth; people who started out tiny and local and have gained the recognition to become what they are now. Roxy Hunt, one of the directors, briefly walked me through their humble beginnings:
We started in 2011 with very humble beginnings…It sold out every single night…we started handing out free booze and popcorn and everyone was forced to sit on top of each other because the space was that small, but that created the energy for it. The other 3 directors [Shannon Walker, Damon Cardasis, Tony Castle] and myself were the ones sweeping up every night at the storefront the first year, watching a mouse run across the room. We just kept it going, and now we obviously have a lot more help and we’ve expanded quite a bit but we try to keep it approachable.
I attended a couple of the short films series, films that offer encapsulating stories and perspectives in a time frame made for those who fear the commitment of a feature. I hold a strong love for truly well-made short films since they offer such a beautifully told (usually) and unpredictable tale serving as a respite from normal life. It allows people to immerse themselves in truly unique, peculiar and relatable narratives.
I have a fascination with petty crime because to me you identify with it way more than, like, an ”Ocean’s Eleven” heist with like demolition experts and such. I feel way more people have been tempted to do things like seeing a cash register open in a bodega and just reaching over. Even though you wouldn’t do it, you would think briefly like ‘wow I could really get this money.’ It’s a relatable petty crime.
We had a delivery boy who would come over, a wimpy guy who carried a backpack full of treasure, that my buddy Trevor Wallace and I, we had the idea that it would be kind of easy to…maybe rob. We talked about it, and were like we probably shouldn’t do it, but we could make a movie about it.
Weston Razooli, writer, co-producer, director, and actor of Jolly Boy Friday.
There was also the fair share of discomfort that every artist knows all too well. Faiyaz Jafri, director, writer and producer of “This Ain’t Disneyland” created this 6 minute film as a reflective piece of the ‘juxtaposition of the collapse of the Twin Towers and Disney. An incredibly well-done film, the animated display showed imagery that was initially confusing and uncomfortable, while shedding some light on person’s perspective of how they experienced the tragedy.
I was in NY when it happened. I experienced it right from my apartment right around the corner here and it pretty much fucked me up badly for a couple years. I felt a little embarrassed about how much it affected me considering that there are places in the world where that kind of stuff happens everyday. I sort of needed to tell my own story in my own style. I was commissioned to do an audio/visual piece that was projected in downtown Denver. I thought it was kind of a fitting thing to put this story far far away from New York and so I figured it’s the time to make the movie, that’s why I made this film…. I usually get the same reaction as here; everyone is just a little quiet, like they don’t know how to deal with it. I get a lot of “WTF” like what were you thinking.
“WTF” was indeed my reaction… at least for the first minute or so. As someone who was also living in NY when 9/11 happened, I was not at a total loss for words for very long. I am all too familiar with how much the attack fucked up people in the Western world, let alone those who were here to witness firsthand. The film included images of tall black and grey buildings, identical to those of the twin towers, crumbling to their demise while being shot from different angles. While the black smoke filled the aqua green background, dozens of reindeers are seen falling to their own demise as well, accompanied by giant Mickey Mouse-like figurines. When asked about the relation of the towers to Disneyland, Jafri said
To me Disney land has that wholesome, Americana, 50s ideal (scene) in the United States. It also represents the mediocrity of how everyone tries to please everyone and this idea of an ideal world that totally doesn’t exist and I think it kind of led to eventually what happened in September 11 and how the American dream doesn’t exist anymore. I use the Disney references… as visual shorthand to tell the story.
Props to keeping it real. Check out some photos of the event below!
Written by Annie Paul