Kirk Gostkowski and Greg Cicchino of the Variations Theatre Group say they are thriving at their home in Long Island City. The former Manhattanites remodeled the old U.S. Chain Company factory into a versatile black box theater for putting on plays and opened last November.
Now they’re rolling out a red carpet for their first film festival, which they hope will draw LIC residents and the artistic community from around the five boroughs.
“People come to see films that don’t come to see plays,” Gostkowski said.
The festival will feature more than 70 independent films, a mixed bag of narrative features, documentaries and shorts. Some are by local filmmakers, while some are foreign. Some feature celebrities and some casts are all unknown.
Despite having concerns about the future of independent films and finding a successful business model, Gostkowski and Cicchino are optimistic about the film festival.
“In the outer boroughs indie theater is thriving because of the low rent,” Gostkowski said.
Cicchino said there is a whole community of people in New York City who seek meaningful theater experiences and want to be challenged.
The theater company gravitates toward “muscular theater”— performances that “punch you in the gut” — and cause a visceral response.
“We want people to know that they can come to us,” Cicchino said. “We’re in the neighborhood and it won’t cost them two to five days’ work.”
“There’s something here everyone can enjoy,” Gostkowski said.
He spoke passionately about “Boogie Stomp!” – a film about boogie woogie music, considered the backbone of rock ’n’ roll.
In the film, Bob Baldori, a musician and filmmaker, went to a restaurant and found Bob Seeley, an 80-year-old man contentedly playing the piano.
They became fast friends and traveled around the country together making music.
Another documentary, “The Lady in Number 6,” directed by Malcolm Clark, is about Alice Herz Sommer, a 109-year-old Holocaust survivor who plays classical music. While imprisoned at Auschwitz, she played piano for the soldiers and was used in Nazi propaganda films.
Gostkowski described her as “exquisite and sharp as a tack,” and despite her experiences she “has amazing optimism about life.”
There’s a movie about a U2 tribute band from New Jersey, and “Theresa is a Mother” is about a broke singer who moves back in with her parents, where she learns to be a parent and comes to terms with her past. “All Around the World” is a comedic documentary series about serious cultural issues in India and Africa, such as preventing and treating AIDS.
“We were not bogged down with trying to get the biggest budgets,” Gostkowski said.
The festival will open with a gala on Aug. 5, and conclude with a “Best of Fest” program on Aug. 17 and awards the following day.
Each program is about one and a half to two hours long.
Many of the filmmakers, including some from overseas, will attend the festival and participate in discussions with the audience after the screenings.
Gostkowski said he hopes the festival evokes the things he loves about going to the movies, primarily the communal experience which he finds lacking in this era of online viewing.
They plan to sell popcorn and ice cream in the lobby, which is decorated with cityscapes shot by local photographers.
“We’re stewards of the arts,” Cicchino said. “It’s our responsibility. We owe it to ourselves as a society to keep the way we communicate on a very deep level alive and vibrant.”
Chain NYC Film Festival
When: Aug. 5 to 18; gala, Aug. 5
Where: The Chain Theatre, 21-28 45 Road, LIC
Tickets: $10, (646) 580-6003