A Film Festival Grows in Inwood

Audiences watch a screening at the 2016 Inwood Film Festival. Photos: Ethan David Kent.

At the northern tip of Manhattan — just a stone’s throw from a public park that contains the largest swath of natural forest remaining on the island — the Inwood Film Festival has quietly taken root. Premiering in 2016, this niche festival jewel-box was created to showcase and support the uptown enclave of Inwood and its related community of filmmakers. While the immediate neighborhood has lacked a proper movie house for over 50 years, enthusiastic turn-out for the burgeoning festival has proven that local cinema is not dead.

Produced by Inwood Art Works and helmed by Founder and Executive Producer Aaron Simms, the two-day festival kicks off its second year on Fri., March 17. Short films of varying length, features, documentaries and student films will be shown. Awards will be presented for each category after the final program on Sat., March 18.

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This year’s screenings take place at The Campbell Sports Center at Columbia University’s Baker Field Athletics Complex (218th St. and Broadway). While festival passes ($40) granting unlimited admission to all the programs are almost sold out, single tickets ($15 per individual program) are still available for purchase.

And now, five questions Aaron Simms has never been asked:

How did the decision to create the Inwood Film Festival come about last year? How did you find your partners, and what was the experience like?

The idea was to create a platform to champion talented local artists in the community, and to create a venue for locals to go to uptown performing arts, since there are no performing arts venues in Northern Manhattan. The mission behind the Inwood Film Festival is extension of that idea: to use art to bring people together by serving local artists and the local arts-loving community.

My co-producers and I were all local to Inwood and we knew each other from the neighborhood. Our aspirations were quite humble at best. We thought we would show a few short films in a café on an off-night in February, should there be any interest. How pleasantly surprised we were to see how interested the community was!

The festival has specific conditions for entry. Can you talk about those? How were the official selections made for this year festival? Did you notice any recurring themes?

The program was created to celebrate and showcase the Inwood community through the moving image. All films are made in the community or by community filmmakers. We expanded from our first season to now include features and student films in addition to short films. Everyone from amateurs to Oscar-winners are encouraged to participate. We have had more than 80 submissions over the last two years, so it’s been wonderful to bring to light and to promote the talent of our local filmmaking community. Inwood Art Works serves as the programming committee, and our wonderful selection committee includes Samuel D. Hunter, Darren Lemke, Robert Joyce and Hanna Hartowicz.

This year, we had two very different, but equally fascinating documentaries about street vendors in Northern Manhattan: Un Trabajo Honesto by Ben Sadoff and Yuby Hernadez, and Buhoneros (Street Vendors) by Carla Franchesca. There are also a few films that showcase our natural surroundings in Inwood Hill Park and Ft. Tryon Park, such as Leaves and Look Up! Visions from Under the Canopy.

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Inwood Art Works is a relatively new entity, though I believe you have been producing Inwood’s Back Porch Show, a variety series, for some time. Why did you create the umbrella of Inwood Art Works and what do you do?

A class from Good Shephard School attends an Inwood Film Festival screening and talkback in 2016.

I’ve produced variety shows on the back porch of my place [here in Inwood] since 2012. The journey of the idea started with that. The decision to move forward followed the 2016 festival. That was the final test for me to see if the neighborhood could support creating a cultural arts hub through locally focused programming.

The mission of Inwood Art Works is to create and curate professional performing and visual arts in the Inwood community. We value encouraging positive social engagement, goodwill and unity through live theater, music, dance, film, new media and visual arts within accessible proximity to Northern Manhattan residents at affordable prices — or free of charge. Everything we do comes back to our mission. In its simplicity, we use art as a platform to bring people together in order to build a stronger community.

What additional projects has Inwood Art Works planned for this year?

Building upon the success of the festival, our 2017 season has expanded our programming to launch Film Works Alfresco, a free outdoor film series coming this summer to Inwood Hill Park; the Back Porch Show; a New Works Festival focused on the creation and development of new plays, musicals and operas with uptown artists; and a pop-up Inwood Art Works Gallery, presenting curated group exhibitions of established and emerging artists from the Inwood community.

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How might someone submit their projects? Or volunteering or otherwise becoming involved with Inwood Art Works?

If you are a local artist or create work with a relevant connection to the community, you should let us know about your work. Perhaps the easiest way to get involved is for people to come see the work we are doing to see if it is a good fit with what they do, what they value and are interested in. We have open submissions open year-round for our Back Porch Show and for scripts, libretti and compositions for our New Works Festival. We open submissions for the Inwood Film Festival in late fall/early winter, and the pop-up gallery submissions will open this May. We are always open to seeing people’s work. People can submit proposals to submissions@inwoodartwork.nyc, and if people want to volunteer, they can reach us through info@inwoodartworks.nyc.