Film festival draws constellation of indie directors


Levi Quartley traveled from the U.K. last week to showcase his film, “It’s Not That Simple.”

“It took place in Falmouth, Cornwall, and was a university project,” he said, about his documentary, filmed in his hometown.

“I always wanted to make a film about transgenders and their challenges with dating.”

It was Quartley’s first screening; he’d submitted it to the Cornwall Film Festival hoping for its inclusion and had flown to the U.S. in for four days with his grandmother, Julie Quartley.

Quartley’s film was one of 16 showcased in the Voices Rising Film Festival, hosted by actor and filmmaker Jaret Martino, at Plaza Cinema & Media Arts Center this past weekend. It was an ebullient and creative influx of filmmakers who gathered from far-flung places.

Asha Molock, who taught home economics for 28 years, drove with family members as well as William Carter, featured in the film, from Philadelphia that day to show her documentary, “Fuel for the Fire: HIV Stigma in the Black Community.” Chronicling Blacks who experience the stigma of HIV but also their resilience, Molock’s film has been selected for inclusion in nine prestigious film festivals.

“I live with HIV and wanted to do a visually moving story and took a community film course,” she said. Molock persevered, and was a grant recipient of the Scribe Video Center, attending their nine-month Film Scholars program.

Director Louis Arevalo, a Salt Lake City-based environmental-portrait photographer and filmmaker, flew in from Utah to show his inspiring film “Tread Setters,” about para-cyclists/adaptive athletes who attempt a 24-hour, 100-mile ride on the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park last October. While stunning, the trail is treacherous in places and the cyclists relate their backstory while dealing with muddy terrains and roadblocks.

The films, mostly shorts—except for the gorgeously uplifting 1-hour PBS-film “Joe 238,” from Colleen Stymeist-Wood, about a grieving father and family who honor their police officer son, Joe Chairez’s (Badge 238) organ donor wish after his unexpected seizure—presented a riveting roster of subjects that ended around 3 p.m.

The filmmakers then followed Martino across the street to Jardin Café for food and discussions.

Also in the mix were representatives from LGBT Network and doctors and advocates from Northwell Health, The Retreat All Against Abuse, and The Safe Center. Attendees were also treated to a drag diva show.

Carol Goldstein, whose company, Lonestar Data Holdings Inc., supported “Tracks: Stumbling Stones in Amsterdam,” an award-winning film directed by Maclovia Martel, introduced herself just before Martino led discussions.

The beautiful story about the laying of Stolpersteine, or memorial stones, honoring Holocaust victims in Amsterdam, was soul-touching.

“The artist Alexander Stukenberg was really the star, showing such patience and care in remembering every individual,” she said of the stone maker in an email. The brass memorial stones, with their names, date of birth, and when and where they died, were placed where the deceased residents used to live on the canal street of Herengracht. Conversations included those who knew the families and those curious about the stones.

A high school teacher and photographer from Los Angeles, Carina Miller, hoped her film “Down to the Bottom” about her father’s alcoholism, would inspire others affected by the disease to tell their own stories with tenderness and care. “I meant it to be cautionary, but it also helped me to process my residual hurt,” she said.

Talk about scary. Kelly A. Turner, a full-time cancer researcher and mom from Westchester, wrote the film, directed by Jeremiah Kipp, then starred in “Dumb Housewife,” about a mother and son who are abducted and how she coaches her young boy to successfully escape. (The title is a play on the abductor’s comment, obviously clueless about who he was dealing with.)

“I’m tired of comic book and superhero movies,” she said. “I felt there needed to be a movie to show how powerful and smart mothers are.”

“The Housewife” is a proof of concept for a full-length feature film. “We’re looking for funding,” she said.

Lisa Cole’s “Bienvenidos A Los Angeles” was shot at Los Angeles International Airport, inspired by a true story. “My former babysitter was all set to reunite with her young son from Mexico and was detained at the airport,” she said. “We made it to put a human face on the complex issue of immigration.” The premise, a Nigerian single mother who helps the Mexican woman she meets in a cab, a perfect stranger, get her son at the L.A. airport and the woman cab driver from India who cheers them on, won the 2023 Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase sponsored by Viola Davis.

One of the most harrowing subjects tackled was by director Molly Herman in “One Pill Can Kill,” about the fentanyl dangers to teens. Meg Bulger, a former standout women’s basketball player at West Virginia University and member of the GameChanger staff, hosted the film and spoke to West Virginia middle and high school students about the dangers of the drug. (The state had the highest rate of overdose deaths in the country in 2015.) “You have to step out of yourself and be uncomfortable… both about drug peer pressure and getting help for a friend,” she said, addressing the Jardin Café crowd. “You aren’t doing what others are doing. Risk-taking doesn’t have to mean taking pills and drugs.” 


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