There are several ways out to Rockaway Beach: ferry boats from the East River motor into the Hudson, under the Verrazano, past Coney Island, and the Far Rockaway bound A train – the longest in the system – traverses 5 miles across Jamaica Bay before arriving at the Beach. They can be transcendent rides for anyone paying attention. This bizarre and beautiful sand bar called Rockaway, I also call home. It’s where I spent most of my 30’s, had a child, and built a house. There’s no place I’d rather live and I am grateful to be part of this unique community.
In 2018 I started a Film Festival with Courtney Muller. Until that point I hadn’t really considered film programming in any formal capacity but I consider myself a lifelong student of film and at times a filmmaker. I’ve also worked as a projectionist and maintenance man at Anthology Film Archives, and built various “pop-up” cinema spaces. I think I can love the architecture of cinemas as much as I love the movies.
Rockaway once had as many as 8 cinemas including an RKO movie palace in Far Rock, and a pier cinema in Arverne. A small and cheap, strip mall 2-screen was the last to close at the end of the century. I longed for a cinema in Rockaway so when an empty warehouse offered itself to me as a venue to make a film festival, I accepted. We raised about $15k and had 7 weeks to put together the space and a 5-day program. It was an intense amount of work but the community response made it rewarding and worthwhile.
I’d say our biggest challenges have been technical, with at least 4 projector failures. One time at Riis Park we had to cancel the show and refund hundreds of tickets. We’ve had our projector break on 2 opening nights. The feeling is dreadful. In general self sufficiency is key and worth the extra cost of a backup projector, generator.
As for programming, we have a split focus between repertory and new films. Since there are no options in Rockaway, we try to play stuff that can appeal to the multitude of folks here. When you want to present a studio movie you generally need to pay a $300 license fee from swank or criterionpics. Most of the time we are showing independent works and budget for $150/feature and $50/short, which ideally goes straight to the filmmaker. We are committed to offering artists payment to show their work and relish the opportunity to acquaint filmmakers with Rockaway. We also champion the many filmmakers who live here and try to screen and support their work.
This past year has shown the world how interconnected we are. A microscopic germ floating in the air in China impacted the lives of nearly 8 billion people. I’m hopeful there will be a lasting sense of solidarity on local levels of society and we can establish new models for doing things like showing movies. I’d love to see more cinemas exist like public libraries or museums.
We have a $55K budget this year which I’m happy to share with anyone who is interested. For the first time we are hiring a publicist to help us get the word out in the press. It has me thinking about the whole ecosystem of film festivals and how interconnected things like premieres, press, and sponsorship become. It’s important to me that we maintain the scrappy nature of our festival as it grows and evolves. While we don’t have a proper home, I am embracing our nomadity, and currently preparing a new outdoor venue for this summer/fall. It continues to be daunting but also purposeful. Courtney has brought a level of excellence and ethical standards that make me proud to be a part of it. The 4th edition will be in September.