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Local filmmakers shine at Sunnyside Film Fest
The Columbia Journalist
September 7, 2008
By Devin Dwyer

When Taylor Pisani, 16, and Dana Weingart, 16, had to choose a topic for a film class assignment at Queens High School of Teaching, Liberal Arts, and the Sciences in Bellerose, they got to talking about “weird old people.” But not in a bad way, Weingart said. The pair had an appreciation of senior citizens and wanted to tackle the “ageism” they believe exists among their peers.

“I felt like lots of people stereotype senior citizens, and I wanted to do something about it,” said Pisani. “My grandmother does a lot more than most people would think [she is able to do].”

Taking that message to the big screen Saturday, Pisani and Weingart unveiled a five-minute film, “Forever Young,” that juxtaposes teenage testimonials about senior citizens with scenes of older folk defying their perceived shortcomings.

Theirs was one of 16 short films, ranging from the provocative to comedic, that debuted Saturday at the annual Sunnyside Short Film Festival in Queens. The event featured local and international works with eclectic casts of characters, including a posse of adults on Big Wheels, a swarm of animated urban bees and a singing sock puppet.

More than 150 film enthusiasts weathered the northern aftermath of tropical storm Hanna and crowded inside the Sunnyside Community Center to watch what many said is one of the city’s most unique and homegrown festivals of film.

“We don’t want to be that professional, just popular among locals and worldwide,” said a smiling Sherry Gamlin, one of the festival’s co-producers. “I don’t want it to get out of hand. We’re not competing with Tribeca [Film Festival].”

For filmmakers, who included students, swim coaches and Off-Broadway actors, the no-frills festival provides an easy chance to give their work an audience. Organizers charge only $12 for submissions, don’t offer prizes and have few entry restrictions other than the 15-minute time limit.

Although many of the films have already been posted on the popular video website YouTube, Gamlin said communal viewing on a 10-by-6-foot screen helps to develop a sense of community and provides a chance for amateur filmmakers to exchange ideas.

One of those filmmakers, Dino Pavlou of Jackson Heights, came to the festival hoping to get production ideas for his own book and film. “I’m writing a screenplay,” said Pavlou, who proudly unveiled a printout of the synopsis. “But after seeing this [festival], putting it on film may take awhile.”

The diverse program included documentaries, short comedies, silent works and fictional mini-features, some with subtitles.

Yolanda Pividal’s “Two Dollar Dance” captivated festivalgoers as it exposed the subculture of Latin American bars along Queens Boulevard.

“Always a Puppet to Me,” by Sunnyside filmmaker Kevin Kolack, received some of the loudest applause after Ralph, the brown, furry sunglass-wearing sock puppet, crooned about his love, Esmeralda, to the tune of a Billy Joel song: “She smells like a sock, but she’s always a puppet to me!”

The crowd, which included young adults and middle-aged couples, displayed a range of responses to the films as they sat around tables in the main hall, some sharing bowls of cookies and candy and bottles of soda.

For Mark Hopper, an actor from Harlem, the Sunnyside festival stood out because of the “unique mixes” and “lots of perspectives” it displayed.

Tobey Hartman, a former actress and self-described movie connoisseur, praised Matthew Fabiano’s “Blazing Big Wheels of Fire” and Pividal’s “Two Dollar Dance.”

“Oh, and you can’t forget the sock puppet one, that was great!” she said.

Pisani and Weingart, who were unsure how people would react to their film, were pleased with the audience reaction to their work.

“People think it’s a good film,” Pisani said. “[It] opens people’s eyes to what’s going on, something they hadn’t thought about before.”