Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Curtain to rise on Queens World Film Festival

Published March 3, 2011 in The Times Ledger

Original Link

The Queens World Film Festival kicks off Thursday, showcasing 109 films at two different locations in Jackson Heights.

Films will be shown Thursday through Monday at Jackson Heights Cinema and the Renaissance Charter School. The festival features films from all over the world, as well as some by local filmmakers.

Co-directors Don and Katha Cato said the mission of the festival is to identify overlooked and challenging films.

“Since the economic downturn, independent films are harder and harder to make, therefore it’s harder [for filmmakers] to get them screened,” said Don, a filmmaker who has been active on the festival circuit for decades. “In order to make their money back, the studios have to put a lot of money into advertising and marketing. Sometimes those costs are 10 times more than the cost to make the film. For that reason it’s become difficult to get these types of films screened.”

Don and Katha are both eager to showcase low-budget, quality films that have difficulty reaching an audience.

“We’re a startup, so we’re not going to attract $1.5 million movies. But we have some really good films that are independent low-budgets that really do strike a chord in terms of their ideas. They are all entertaining and compelling,” Don said.

Filmmakers submitted movies from Israel, Brazil, Taiwan, Canada, Oregon and Chicago, to name a few. About 15 films are from the New York area, with 10 of those from Queens.

Don and Katha estimate that about half the films that were submitted were selected for the festival. “We reached out to colleges, we made it as easy as possible for people to submit,” Katha said. “We also did a huge e-mail campaign. This is about doing something right, and a lot of people responded.”

The directors programmed the festival in blocks to maximize audience interest. There are 33 differently themed blocks, each one no more than two hours long. Some blocks are made up of a few short films, while other blocks show a single feature-length film. The block themes range from “Edgy Love Short Stack” to “Vampires, Zombies and Psychos.” At the end of each block, audience members have the chance to meet the filmmakers and partake in question-and-answer sessions.

A panel of judges, including Bill Woods, the New York coordinator for New Filmmakers Series; Jennifer Griffith, associate professor of music at Hofstra University; Stéphane Houy-Towner, a curator formerly with the Met; William Gadea, an animator who is creative director of Homebaked Films and teaches at the New York Film Academy; and Celested Balducci, a Queens filmmaker, will also hand out a number of awards at the end of the festival.

The winning films will be announced at the award ceremony on Sunday. Awards will be designated to the “Best Of…” winners in each category. Categories include “Best Narrative Feature” and “Best Narrative Short,” and more. There will also be honorable mentions as well as special awards, like “The Spirit of Queens” and “Best of the Festival” awards.

Sunday night’s ceremony will also feature a selection of work by the 2011 QWFF Youth Initiative. The program, spearheaded by Katha, allowed students at Our World Neighborhood Charter School in Astoria to create their own films. Some youths in the program will also be working at the festival.

Don and Katha said they’ve gotten incredible support from the community, but since the QWFF is only starting-up, they’ve had to pay out of pocket to make the event come together.

“Whatever it takes to make this thing happen, we’re doing it,” Don said.

Tickets are available for purchase online and at the screenings. Doors open at 6 p.m. on Thursday, opening night and tickets are a flat fee of $10. Opening night will feature remarks by Don and Katha, special guests, as well as two short films, one feature length film and a Q & A session.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday the cost for seniors and kids 18 and under are $3 per block. For all others, tickets are $6 per block on those days. An unlimited festival pass is also available for $36.

There will be after-parties each night following the screenings. Visit www.queensworldfilmfestival.com for detailed information, including a full schedule and film information, as well as information on QWFF discounts at surrounding restaurants and hotels.

Mark Cuban Bets $5M on Future of 'Fingerprinting' Tech Devices

Published October 29, 2010 FoxBusiness.com

California-based startup BlueCava has locked in $5 million in funding from billionaires Mark Cuban and Tim Headington.
The Irvine-based company boasts of being the first startup to produce this level of device identification technology which works to prevent fraud during financial web transactions by taking a “fingerprint” of an electronic device. The technology also helps retailers reach potential customers via the Internet.

“We’re really quite unique in our position in this industry. We are the only company using this technology to improve online targeting,” said CEO David Norris.

As part of the funding, Cuban -- owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and Landmark Theatres, and chairman of the cable network HDNet -- has joined the company’s board of directors, saying he sees “huge market opportunity” in BlueCava’s innovative technology. BlueCava says Cuban’s backing is a signal of many building blocks in the company’s future.

“Mark [Cuban] is a smart man who is passionate about technology,” Norris said. “He believes our business is very unique and he wants to help build it to its maximum potential and help us with our long term strategy of taking our business to a much larger size.”
Moving Forward by Backing Up The recent round of funding closed early because it was oversubscribed by nearly 500 percent, which left several investors waiting by the sidelines. That financial support is welcome security for BlueCava as they plan their expansion. Although the company’s marketing efforts are currently focused in the United States, Norris said they have long-term plans to expand into Europe and Asia.

In its most simple terms, BlueCava’s technology aims to specifically target online advertising and help prevent fraudulent activity. Retailers can use it to hone in on their target demographics by working with computing devices like iPads, smart phones, laptops, PCs or game consoles in any part of the world. Businesses can then detect, identify and track devices within their own environments.

And as a result of using the technology, BlueCava says online consumers can expect to see more relevant advertisements and less spam. And experts say an even bigger consumer benefit is in the patent’s fraud prevention potential, which protects against identity theft and the illegal re-distribution of content.

“Online fraud is at an all-time high as businesses are struggling with cost-effective and non-intrusive ways of reducing fraud,” said Souheil Badran, SVP and division manager of First Data eCommerce Solutions. “There is a need for device reputation data to be integrated into a merchant’s existing fraud payment, fraud identification and online advertising systems. Using the reputation information that BlueCava provides, firms can quickly and easily reduce fraudulent transactions.”

So, what about Big Brother? Norris said consumers should have no privacy concerns.

“We are big consumer advocates, especially when it comes to disclosure about things like trafficking,” Norris said. “We are doing significant things to make sure consumers understand that they can opt out. We support and endorse the ability for consumers to control their privacy.”

Trippingly on the Tongue

Jackson Rep opens its season with a performance of hip-hop/Shakespeare mashup 'The Sonnet Man'

Devon Glover

Published February 10, 2011 in The Times Ledger

(Original link)

The Jackson Repertory Theater is set to open its 2011 season in Jackson Heights with a performance of “The Sonnet Man,” an innovative blend of music and Shakespeare conceived by Broadway playwright Arje Shaw as a way of exposing young people to classical literature through a genre they know and love: hip-hop.

The concept for “The Sonnet Man” was dancing in Shaw’s head for 15 years before emerging into a long-anticipated reality last year.

Shaw’s vision was to successfully blend Shakespeare with hip-hop, and “The Sonnet Man” does just that. The group, which consists of rapper and lyricist Devon Glover, DJ Daniel Lynas and background vocalist Melissa Gutman, delivers a seamless fusion of hip-hop and Shakespearian sonnets, which are altered by a mixture of modern lyrics.

The balance of melodic beats and poetry draws a diverse audience that includes hip-hop lovers as well as Shakespearian aficionados. But perhaps the most powerful element of “The Sonnet Man” is the group’s ability to educate urban youth about classical literature through the fun and universal medium of music.

Brooklyn native Glover, 29, shines as the group’s frontman, along with the core group of Lynas and Gutman who performed with him on the self-titled debut album that was released last year.

On Jan. 6, Glover, Shaw and Guttman appeared on NBC’s “Today Show,” where they performed “Sonnet 18,” Glover’s favorite track from the album.

“I really wasn’t nervous about the performance. I feel like I was ready for it. But I was kind of nervous about the interview – I’m not used to interviews. It was surreal but a great feeling to be there,” Glover said.

Using music as an educational tool suits Glover, who currently works as an assistant after-school teacher and academic tutor. Whether it’s on stage or in the classroom, Glover’s main goal is to educate. He has one class to go before he earns undergraduate degrees in Mathematics and Education from Ithaca College.

“Whether I’m teaching Shakespeare or math, I just want to send a message,” Glover said. “The Sonnet Man” allows him to teach Shakespeare’s classic poems in a way that kids will more easily remember, because they are put to catchy beats.

The “Sonnet Man” songs are a collaborative effort. Glover, along with Shaw and Lynas, read through all of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnet poems. They select sonnets that resonate with them on an emotional level, or carry a universal theme. Glover said he reads about 10 sonnets per day, looking for inspiration.

“The ones that speak to me when I’m reading them, they are the ones that I’ll want to record because they are heartfelt,” Glover said. After selecting a sonnet, Glover brings it to the rest of the creative team. Shaw, Lynas and Guttman help arrange the sonnet to instrumentation, and Glover colors it with fresh lyrics. “Everybody adds elements to the sonnets,” Glover said.

“We try to think of the mood [Shakespeare] was in when he wrote each sonnet. If it’s a feel-good mood, we’ll put it to a happy beat, and if it’s a somber mood, we’ll do a more bluesy song,” Glover said.

“The Sonnet Man” has been going strong since gaining national exposure on “Today.” They recently performed a cabaret-style set with a full band at Triad in Manhattan, and Glover said a second album is in the works, though a release date hasn’t been set.

The upcoming performance at the Jackson Repertory Theater falls on the weekend before Valentine’s Day, so Glover said they will focus on performing love-themed sonnets.

“Shakespeare wrote a lot about love, and its Valentine’s weekend, so it will be special,” Glover said, adding that he admires the Bard’s technique of writing “with his heart on his sleeve” — a phrase he coined, incidentally, in the play “Othello.”

“I think it’s going to be a wonderful event, so I really hope there are a lot of couples who will appreciate it,” Glover said. “This is not your typical hip-hop. It’s smooth. This is music that might draw people closer together for Valentine’s Day,”

Queens Museum brings collection of World's Fair photographer's work from Mexico

Published January 6, 2010 in The Times Ledger
The Queens Museum of Art is running an exhibition of the works of Luis Márquez, showcasing historic photographs and memorabilia from the New York World’s Fair that took place in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

“Luis Márquez in the World of Tomorrow: Mexican Identity and the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair” will be on view through March 6.

The exhibition features an award-winning photographic account by Márquez, whose work highlighted folkloric Mexico with an eclectic range of photographic styles. The photographs were brought from the collections of Universidad Nacional de México and Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana in Mexico City.

Most photographs were digitally reproduced from photographic negatives and are on display in the United States for the first time ever. There are also five vintage prints that were originally exhibited at the fair.

The photographic negatives were rediscovered by curators Itala Schmelz and Ernesto Peñaloza in the Luis Márquez photographic archive at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City.

“This exhibition is the result of 10 years of research of almost 300 photos taken by Luis Márquez at the New York World’s Fair. They intrigued us so much that we asked ourselves how Márquez arrived at the fair and in what historical context he worked,” Schmelz and Peñaloza said in a statement through QMA.

Traditional Mexican folk costumes were also taken from the Mexican collections, to contextualize the folk-art element of Márquez’s work.

According to QMA Director of Exhibitions Hitomi Iwasaki, Schmelz put great efforts into gathering fair memorabilia to complement Márquez’s photographs.

“Itala came here to research the World’s Fair archives. She went to MoMa, The Museum of the City of New York and The New York Public Library,” Iwasaki said, adding that the memorabilia provides an interesting backdrop for Marquez’s work. The memorabilia includes newspaper clippings, advertisements, and interviews from the time of the fair.

“They wanted to bring [the photographs and memorabilia] back to the original location in New York as part of the bicentennial that took place,” Iwasaki said.

A good portion of the photographs at the exhibition involve images of sailors who were asked by Márquez to pose with models and folk dancers. Other photographs showcase the Mexican pavilion building, sculptures, fountains and general views. For his work, the fair awarded Márquez first place in its own photography contest.

Iwasaki said one of her favorite photographs at the exhibition is an untitled work from 1940 that shows a model posed in front of British pavilion, an exhibition print from original negative taken from the archive at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Admission to the exhibition is by suggested donation of $5 for adults and $2.50 for seniors and children. Members and children under five are admitted for free.

With a critical eye

Favorites from the early years of movie critic Dave Kehr showcased at Moving Image in 'When Movies Mattered.'

Published Thursday March 24, 2011 in The Times Ledger

ASTORIA -- This weekend, The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria will honor acclaimed film critic David Kehr with a program inspired by his recently published anthology, “When Movies Mattered: Reviews from a Transformative Decade.”

Published by the University of Chicago Press, the anthology features a collection of film reviews Kehr wrote between 1974 and 1986. It is the first anthology of Kehr’s work.

Moving Image is celebrating the book with the two-day program, entitled “Dave Kehr: When Movies Mattered,” which includes a personal appearance and book signing by Kehr and screenings of films by Raoul Walsh, Walter Hill, Luis Buñuel, Jonathan Demme and Jean-Luc Godard, all presented in 35 mm prints.
David Schwartz, chief film curator at the Moving Image, said that the films selected for screening have a special significance relating to Kehr’s writing.

“We wanted to choose a selection that was representative of the book, so we included some American directors who were emerging at the time,” said Schwartz

With a career spanning 40 years, Kehr was one of the first critics to write about American director Jonathan Demme’s early work, which is why Moving Image chose Demme’s 1980 film “Melvin and Howard.” Kehr’s book also contains reviews of the work of historic European directors, so film buffs shouldn’t be surprised at the selection of Godard’s “Every Man for Himself” (1980) and Buñuel’s “That Obscure Object of Desire” (1977).

The book also takes a look at movies from the early 20th century. To highlight that era, there will be a screening of a newly restored print of “Sailor’s Luck” (1933) by Raoul Walsh, one of Kehr’s favorite directors.

“American cinema is just full of undiscovered little gems like [“Sailor’s Luck”]. It’s exciting for me,” said Kehr, who described it as a film that was overlooked upon release.

“Sailor’s Luck” will open the series on Saturday at 2 p.m. Following the screening Schwartz will moderate a discussion with Kehr, along with audience Q & A.

Moving Image chose to highlight the publication of Kehr’s book because it demonstrates his place as one of the most important American film critics of our time, according to Schwartz, who acknowledged that much of Kehr’s earlier work may have gone unnoticed. He described Kehr’s early film reviews as brilliant, yet lacking exposure in New York, since he was writing for The Chicago Reader, a weekly newspaper.

“His work holds up next to the best film critics, it’s just that he didn’t have a New York platform,” Schwartz said. “This book will make this very important work available to New York audiences. Some people know him now from the New York Times because he’s their DVD columnist, but I don’t think they’re aware of his earlier work.”

The volume covers a vibrant period in filmmaking, when new movies were being made by the likes of Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, and Orson Welles; emerging New Hollywood directors like Walter Hill and John Carpenter, and international stars like Godard and Wim Wenders.

The reviews selected for the anthology were mainly selected by University of Chicago press editor, Rodney Powell, based on the simple conclusion that they would be of the most interest to readers.

“They are all kind of relics of a particular time,” Kehr said of the selections. “They tend to be longer — two to three thousand words. They’re examples of largely vanished popular criticism that I miss. I miss writing that kind of stuff, and I hope people enjoy reading them now.”

Modern media has changed tremendously since the publication of those reviews. The alternative press has been nearly wiped out by the Internet, a medium that favors short, concise synopsis, so there is not much room left for writers to truly indulge in a lengthy and thought-provoking critique of modern films. That, and films simply aren’t what they used to be.

“Movies today aren’t really the ones that lend themselves to that kind of lengthy discussion,” Kehr said. “It’s hard to have a lengthy discussion of something like ‘Hall Pass’ — the equivalent movie of the 1970’s would be ‘Animal House.’ Movies have changed.”

Kehr moved to The Chicago Tribune after leaving the Chicago Reader in 1986, and he was its principal film critic until late 1992, when he moved to New York to become a critic for The Daily News. In 2000, he took over the “At the Movies” column for the New York Times, and continues to write about film for the Times and other publications. Kehr also blogs at davekehr.com.

All screenings take place at the museum and are included with the price of museum admission.