Yonkers is becoming a magnet for the film industry. Many films have been created there and Lionsgate recently opened a studio complex on the city’s waterfront – making it the perfect backdrop for a film festival. In the words of Dave Steck, Executive Director of YoFi Fest: “Yonkers is Hollywood on the Hudson.”
YoFi Fest, short for Yonkers Film Festival, has seen and helped to usher this growth. The festival itself has come a long way since its beginnings as a small labor of love by Steck and co-founder Patty Schumann. At the time, the festival was two days, and screened about 50 films. Now in its eleventh year, the festival’s offerings have expanded exponentially. It’s now ten days long and features roughly 125 films from 24 countries.
The annual festival, this year taking place from November 10-19, once again promises not only film screenings, but also live Q&A sessions with filmmakers, educational workshops, various networking events, receptions, and parties.
As for the films, this year’s selection spans various genres, from features and documentaries to shorts and animations. It even includes music videos, web series and student creations. For example, in the comedic short film I Try, a man practices singing a Macy Gray song alone in the bathroom of a karaoke bar. In the drama Oceanside, a man returns to his hometown to investigate a murder only to unravel dark mysteries connected to his own childhood. In the science fiction short To: Everyone I Love, a woman who is falling in love recruits her A.I. to assess her relationship.
“These are films that they will not currently see on Netflix, or Amazon or Hulu or any other streaming outlet. Some of those films will make it there and some won’t. So this might be their only opportunity ever to see them. And especially some of the foreign films don’t play a lot in the United States.”
But YoFi Fest is not only about showcasing international films; it’s still nurturing local talent as well. In fact, there is a heavy focus on homegrown talent. Local filmmakers have found a platform to present their work on a larger screen and engage with an audience of hundreds.
Representing film from such a broad spectrum of locations and genres, and framing them in talks, workshops and receptions, provides audiences with the opportunity to engage with the entire filmmaking process as well as the intent behind those films.
YoFi Fest is renowned not only for its diverse film selection but also for its vibrant atmosphere. Steck explains that it’s a place where film enthusiasts can discuss and celebrate their passion: “Film is a shared experience; it’s a bunch of people sitting in the dark at the same time.” In an era dominated by streaming services, this is something to note.
Steck adds: “The festival provides an occasion for audiences to connect, interact and share their thoughts with one another… We discourage people from talking during the movies or texting. But we do want to provide them lots of opportunities to get to know each other and to talk and post, take pictures and so forth.”
That said, Steck stresses that he doesn’t want this to be a black-tie affair. It is open to the community. “We’ve had people say ‘I hear you have a red-carpet reception. It sounds very fancy. I don’t have a tuxedo. I can’t go.’ Well, it’s not fancy. It’s not like that. This affair is for everyone.”
“As much as I love a good Marvel movie, I also like other things. You can’t eat the same thing every day,” explained Steck. “We provide something different.”
About Scott Meaney
Scott Meaney is a writer based in Mt. Kisco, New York. He has written for numerous publications, including ArtsNews, Dualshockers, Comic Book Resources and various newspapers. He also has been an SEO copywriter for 11 years.