It featured 189 indie films from 36 countries, themed in 53 blocks with films from all genres and topical themes including the environment, LBGTQ, horror, fantasy, immigration, activism, family, relationships, and racial profiling.
One of the most intriguing blocks was We the People that was shown in the historic Zuckor Screening Room of Kaufman Astoria Studios. The program borrowed its title from the opening words of the U.S. Constitution. Conceived as a celebration of free speech, this block featured seven short stories about activism, civil rights, and civil disobedience.
“We feel strongly about protecting rights of all people and in proving all artists, regardless of their country of origin, a safe space to show their work,” said Marija Sajkas, the curator of We the People block.
The block was dedicated to the early commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its Article 19 that guarantees freedom of expression to everyone.
“Unfortunately, this fundamental right is frequently violated through tactics such as censorship, restrictive legislation, and harassment of journalists, bloggers, artists and others who voice their descent,” said Sajkas who works as an international consultant on media freedoms and is also a U.S. based correspondent for a Serbian weekly Novi Magazin.
We the People opened with a short documentary, Cycle that follows the infamous Critical Mass urban riders of New York City in their activist response to authority. The Spanish produced The Other Side takes the viewers to a park on the American-Mexican border which is the only place where relatives from both sides could lean against the fence and talk. Couples quietly whisper in each other's ears while Border Patrol agents walk back and forth in what can be compared to a prison yard on visiting day. Shot as a document of the Women's March in Seattle in 2017, We Will Not be Silenced reaffirms the idea that freedom of expression is something that needs to be protected and at times fought for. The film follows the big women’s march in Settle organized as a reaction to Donald Trump presidency, and it features a sea of protestors in pink hats. The feature documentary Fighting for Justice is a local Queens story that follows a family of a killed Muslim cleric in the aftermath of his death. The film uncovers the reluctance of the criminal justice system to charge anybody with -hate crime, and it reveals an unsettling story that not everything is ideal in a liberal and diverse city such as New York. A short feature from Iran, The Stage provides an unexpected take on the war in Syria, while another feature film, Forgive Me, produced in Kosovo, focusses on that country’s forbidden topic - a family in turmoil after one of its members decides to join ISIS. By following a story of a teacher from North Carolina who wanted to make a point about free speech by stepping on the American Flag, Flagged: An American Love Story brings the question of freedom of expression and the limits of the First Amendment back home.
After the screening, QWFF8 honored reporter Katie Honan, formerly of DNA Info, for her journalistic integrity, curiosity and dedicated work in promoting the Borough of Queens. The award was presented by Karen Pennar, Co-Director of Center for Community and Ethnic Media at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.