Film director Melvin Van Peebles helped kick off a preview of the 6th annual Queens World Film Festival on Thursday at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.
Van Peebles is this year’s recipient of the festival’s "Spirit of Queens" award, recognizing him for his work as a pioneer in African-American cinema.
“The happiness that I have to be here, I ain’t lying,” Van Peebles told the audience.
Organizers said they hope this year’s event — which will show independent films at different venues across Queens, across five days, starting March 15 — inspires a new generation of trailblazers like Van Peebles.
Out of 500 entries, only 140 made the cut.
“The films are the stars," said Katha Cato, the executive director of the festival. "We want to see a unique idea, we want to see craftsmanship."
The winning films were announced at the preview. The producers said it was a privilege to show their work at the festival.
“It's a different community here in Long island City and Queens, and it's a lot of local filmmakers," William Cusick, an independent filmmaker, said. "So, there's a really nice sense of community, a really nice sense of support."
"We shot in Queens," said Emilie McDonald, also a filmmaker. "It's all about Queens characters, and we've been travelling around with the film, but this is a really nice place to end up where we started."
Cato said she expects more than 4,000 moviegoers this year, and added that the festival connects producers to audiences, as well as to other artists.
"We're giving them an opportunity in their home town to also be screened with international films, to create an international network of filmmakers," Cato said.
While this global film festival drew films and documentaries from countries like Nepal and Argentina, local leaders and event organizers said they were most excited about screening movies made in Queens.
"I'm looking forward to screening 'Julio of Jackson Heights,'" said City Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Queens. "It documents the murder of Julio Rivera in 1990. It shows the beginnings of the first LGBT pride parade."
Cato said roughly 30 of the festival participants are Queens-based filmmakers.