No Budget Film Festival Rakes In The Talent

For years, Astoria has been known for its sidewalk cafes, tidy homes and family atmosphere. Now, Susan Agliata and Janine Fleri are hoping to add one thing to that list: a sense of artistic community.

This weekend, the pair—both 24 and filmmakers—will present “Hell on Reels,” a self described “no budget, do it yourself” film festival. The goal, they say, is to give Western Queens’ artists a creative outlet closer to home than Williamsburg or Chelsea, while forging connections in a community that, while growing, remains diffuse.

As satanic as the festival’s name sounds, it was inspired not by thoughts of eternal damnation, but by the steel arched Hell Gate Bridge, anengineering marvel andAstoria landmark. Agliata and Fleri can see it from where they live, one short block from each other. Though the festival has local roots, 12 states and seven countries contributed to the 145 submissions received.

The lineup for the May 21 screening is still emerging, but Agliata estimated at least five of the program’s 15 to 20 short films would be culled from submissions from Australia, Canada, China, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. No overarching theme has emerged, though many Canadian entries, primarily from Montreal, commented on American political events. “It’s been all over the board,” Agliata said, “but mostly experimental in nature.”

The number, quality and scattered origins of entries testified to the power of the Internet. Agliata and Fleri posted on such widely read sites as Craigslist, Friendster, MySpace and Flavorpill, as well as local online community classifieds, among many others. After discovering their neighborhood was underrepresented, however, they used a more low tech solution and posted fliers in supermarkets and bakeries—resulting in more locally made works.

Agliata and Fleri viewed every entry, relying on a 1 to 5 rating system to sort them into “yes,” “no” and “maybe” piles. The “maybes” would be considered for later screenings, but without a track record behind them, the pressure was on to establish a favorable reputation with this first festival. That meant presenting only the best work.

What went into the “no” stack? “Bad horror films,” Agliata said. The kitschy, campy, comedy variety might work, she explained, “but not one that takes itself way too seriously.” Poor craftsmanship, when it wasn’t part of a conscious stylistic decision, sank other efforts. While auditioning the films Fleri asked, “Can we expect an audience to sit through this and then come back next year?”

“Nyfi (The Bride),” made in 2005 by Alana Kakoyiannis, 28, answered that question with a resounding “yes.” An Astoria resident working on her Master of Fine Arts in Hunter College’s integrated media arts program, Kakoyiannis called her experimental documentary “an emotional journey with text and music.” In it, she contrasted her paternal grandparents’ arranged marriage in 1930s Cyprus with the freedom of her contemporary one.

She learned about the film festival from a fellow student, also living in Queens. “There’s a lot of excitement for something local,” said Kakoyiannis, who’s used to trekking to Manhattan and Brooklyn for art events.

No awards will be handed out this time, but going forward, Agliata thought restaurant owners might donate gift certificates for prizes. Already there are plans for festivals in June, July and possibly September.

Catch Hell on Reels on Sunday, May 21 at Hell Gate Social, 12 21 Astoria Blvd., Astoria. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; films roll at 8:30 p.m. Expect a two to three hour program with intermission, plus indoor video installations. Admission is free, with no drink minimum. See for directions and information on future festivals.

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