Monday, March 21, 2016


It was an award-winning evening as the Queens World Film Festival staged its closing ceremonies at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria Saturday night.
“We are so thrilled by the films shown and the overwhelming response from our audience and the media,” festival directors Don and Katha Cato said in a statement. “This was our largest festival ever with a number of standing-room-only screenings, we thank all of our filmmakers, sponsors, venues and staff.”
Earlier in the week, director Melvin Van Peebles received the festival’s Spirit of Queens Award in recognition of his work, which helped create a new era in African-American cinema.
His ground-breaking 1971 movie “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” was shown as part of the tribute.
The closing evening program began with a screening of the “Smithereens,” the 1982 film directed by Susan Seidelman.
A Q&A session with Seidelman and the museum’s curator David Schwartz followed the film.
Then it was off to the Paper Factory Hotel and the presentation of the awards.
Katha Cato added that the films selected “were inclusive and diverse, truly representative of the world and the world of film.”
Winners were determined by a group of judges, audience members and the Catos.
Below is a list of the winning films:
• Best Animation — “Lima,” by Afshin Roshanbakht and Vahid Jafari
• Best Family Friendly — “Mr. Ready,” by John Galvin
• Best LGBTQ — “Life’s a Drag,” by Robin Royce Queree
• Best Actress in a Short — Marisa Vitali, “Grace”
• Best Actress in a Feature — Sareh Bayat, “Oblivion Season”
• Best Actor in a Short — Calvin Smith, “Better Man”
• Best Actor in a Feature — Timothy Neil Williams, “Read Me”
• Best Ensemble — “Ride or Die”
• Best Comedy Short — “RSVP,” Nicholas Billon
• Best Comedy Feature — “Dirty Beautiful,” Tim Bartell
• Best Cinematography Short — “City of Dreams,” Yana Karin
• Best Cinematography Feature — “Dying Candle,” Rabin Acharya
• Best Cinematography Documentary — “God Knows Where I Am,” Gerardo Puglia
• Best Director Documentary Short — “With Love,” Christopher Ludgate
• Best Director Documentary Feature — “God Knows Where I Am,” Todd and Jedd Wider
• Best Documentary Short — “In the Hollow,” Austin Bunn
• Best Documentary Feature — “Marzia, My Friend,” Kirsi Mattila
• Best Director Short — “Queen Kong,” Monica Lisa Stambrini
• Best Director Feature — “She Sings to the Stars,” Jennifer Corcoran
• Best Short — “A Warm Spell,” Toshimichi Saito

• Best Feature — “H.O.M.E.” Daniel Maldonado
• Special Prize for Motion Graphics — “Hoppla!”
• Special Prize of First Feature — “Nothing Serious”
• Special Prize for Social Impact in a Documentary — “Julio of Jackson Heights”
• Special Jury Prize — “Oblivion Season”
• Audience Award Documentary — “Saving Jamaica Bay”
• Audience Award Feature — “Pop Meets the Void”
• Founders Choice for Short — “Alles Wird Gut, (Everything Will Be Okay)”
• Founders Choice Feature — “She Sings to the Stars”
• Best of the Fest — “Pop Meets the Void”
On Friday, April 22, the Queens World Film Festival will present a free screening of this year’s shorts at Resorts World Casino.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


Years ago Kosher restaurants meant “Delis”, with sandwiches of brisket of beef accompanied by a large bowl of Matzo Ball Soup.  Immigrants from several areas of Europe and East Asia have, in more recent years, brought their own Kosher cooking. With the Soviet Union having broken up, new countries were formed, one of which is Georgia and a cuisine of its own.


Owner Ana Empremashvili (Give a holla for Women’s History Month) was bored with the flavor offerings of many kosher restaurants. She grew up in Moscow but later lived in Georgia.  Why not bring the flavors of that area to the area of Forest Hills and Rego Park and call it “Marani”.  Keep hiring your Executive Chef until you get the one you want…Araik Grigryan, who comes from Georgia as well.  

Although “Marani” means wine cellar, the restaurant has that feeling and comfort of wood furniture, low lighting (Not too low so you can’t read the menu), wall fixtures that allow enough “Georgian” to come through, and some upbeat music.  And, yes, there are some good wines. 

Next, import the spices.  Call it their own “curry” as curry is not a spice but a combination of (which they won’t reveal).  Keep in mind that spices do not necessarily taste the same in each country. Now, we’re ready to sample the food.

Walnuts play a large part, not whole or chopped, but rather as a paste.  It can get “milky” as if you had almond milk.  Order the freshly made Georgian bread called Shotis Puri.  I chose an appetizer of three salads.  Sliced fried eggplant rolled up in walnut paste and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds…another Georgian staple.  A baby beet salad had a slight crunch from the beets, rather than the walnuts.  Then there was this green bean salad that with a few more additions could have passed for a mock chopped liver.  Loved all three.  Washed my food down with a pear flavored Georgian “lemonade” soda.  Really refreshing! 

 Soup time! I ordered the Harcho and what turned out to be another OMG.  It is a tomato and pepper based soup made with “rice, lamb, and love” as well as the Georgian spices.   Followed with an appetizer, Dressed Herring:  Layered with pickled herring, potato salad, carrots, beets and hardboiled egg (and herbs). 

Most places that have stuffed grape leaves, give you no more than just rice.  There is very little rice as their grape leaves are stuffed with beef and lamb.  Had to sample a few more apps before the main course.  Pelmeni is common to Russian cuisine, although I suspect that the herbs used in this one is different. Their version is like having fried kreplach filled with beef and topped with a tomato sauce and onions.  Totally curious about the Khinkali, described as “Georgian style dumplings with beef, lamb and herbs” that turns out to be their version of Chinese soup dumplings…not as “soupy” and thick dumpling but still delicious!  

Looking over the entrees, one stood out as being “different”.  As it turned out Ana recommended it! Chakapuli: braised lamb bones with enough meat to satisfy.  It contains tarragon, herbs, tkemali – a spicy Georgian tomato sauce and “magic”.   What the difference between “love” and “magic” is doesn’t matter…there is an obvious amount of both in all of the cooking.  

I did save a little room for dessert….a non-dairy version of a Napoleon.  Very flakey (like me) and a creamy textured filling.  

This does not conclude my review of the restaurant as this place is the only restaurant that has two Glatt Kosher restaurants one of which is downstairs (You have to enter the main restaurant) where you can have dairy!  It’s a small cafĂ© that specializes in “Megruli”, a Georgian version of pizza.  

They are not hanging around and you don’t get to order a slice.  I watched the chef (another female), as she pounded out a circle of dough and fill the middle with Sulguni cheese, kind of like a combo of mozzarella and feta.  Folded in, she then flattened it and covered with an egg wash. Into the oven for what was only about ten minutes.  Washed atop with butter and placed in a to-go pizza box.  I took one home.  Think of it as a large round thin crusted calzone as if you were ordering a “white pie”.  This Khachapuri Megruli is only one of the offerings. 

Now, here’s the thing.  You can go downstairs with some friends and start off with any of their dairy products then go upstairs and dine but you can’t bring it with you. If you’re Kosher, you can’t do it the other way. 

Marani is located at 97-26 63rd Drive. 718-569-0600.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


 After viewing an exhibition of Ida Piller-Greenspan’s monoprints and hearing the artist relate her tale of escaping from the Nazis, an editor suggested she put her story down in book form because it was, “so haunting.”

Published about a decade ago, “When the World Closed Its Doors: Struggling to Escape Nazi-Occupied Europe” was written by Susan M. Branting based on interviews with Piller-Greenspan and using the artists’ prints.

Born in Poland and raised in Antwerp, Belgium, Piller-Greenspan, who settled in Briarwood with her husband, Maurice Piller, to raise their daughters, used art to share her horrific past without speaking about it.

“My mother decided to create a pictorial diary of my parents’ escape when she learned I was pregnant with my first child,” daughter Rosie Piller said. “The pictorial diary was based on her memories, which were not always clear and crisp. These prints are meant to portray ‘an indistinct, dream-like quality.’”

Ida and Maurice Piller’s story begins on their wedding night, May 9, 1940, when the Nazis invaded Belgium.

As the story progresses, the reader learns of the couple’s ordeal when evading the Nazis and trying to obtain visas to any country that would allow the young Jews to settle. During that time most of Piller-Greenspan’s family were deported and killed in Auschwitz.

As they lived on rations of fruit, eggs and sometimes dog biscuits, the fear of having to return to occupied Belgium or any country overcome by the Nazis stirred great feats of strength and endurance as anti-Semitism was widespread.Visas finally came from the United States.

“On June 3, 1941, two days before my 22nd birthday, we walked up the metal gangway and into steerage, the third-class section in the bottom of the boat,” Piller-Greenspan said in the book. “We did not know whether we would be turned away when we reached the United States or sent on some hopeless journey from one country to another...We could not know whether the United States would close its doors.”

Once in Briarwood, the couple set up a small diamond wholesale business.
Maurice, who by then had changed his name to Morris, would do the buying and selling, and Piller-Greenspan would help by sorting the diamonds, Piller said.

After being widowed in 1965, Piller-Greenspan tried to keep the business going as the only woman in the Diamond District, but men did not feel comfortable dealing with a woman, Piller said.
In 1967, Piller-Greenspan married Joseph Greenspan and stopped working outside the home in order to turn her attention to her growing family, including sons Mark and Danny Greenspan.

She also focused on her art, eventually earning a bachelor of fine arts from Queens College on her 60th birthday in 1979.

Piller-Greenspan left Queens in 2001 and moved to Boulder, Colo. to be closer to Piller. She died in 2011.

With the exception of her pictorial diary, none of her artwork had to do with the Holocaust. She worked in realism, abstract art, and everything in between. She even sculpted a few pieces.
“I would like to thank my loving parents, Morris and Ida, for setting their grief and anger aside and bringing us up on the Golden Rule,” her daughter said. “My sister Liane and I learned about the Holocaust at an early age and, thankfully, the focus was not on hatred but on the lessons to be learned regarding resistance to oppression and compassion for the oppressed.”

"Wedding Day."  They all rose to dance the hora.

"The Dead Are Left Behind".  Here, bodies of dead English soldiers littered the beach."

"The Last Goodbye."  Ida hugs her mother and bids a goodbye, wondering if she would ever see her again.

"Hotel Sholem Alechem in Barcelona."  A local Jewish organization provided them with shelter.

"In Lisbon.  Forced to Return to Germany (Ida weeping on the right)"

"When the World Closed Its Doors"

Brooklyn Bridge (pastel)
Ecstasy.  Rosie: "This might have been my mother's personal favorite. She said it was ecstatic for her to create it.

Nude painting in oil that shows her ability to paint realistic work
Rosie:"She experimented with lots of media.  Here is one of her sculptures.
Ida's take on Rodin's "The Thinker".
Warriors (Acrylic)

Photos submitted by Rosie Piller