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Locally Shot Film Makes Queens Debut 20 Years After Filmmaker Died

By Katie Honan | March 6, 2014 10:19am
 "The House That Jack Built" was written over 20 years ago by Joe Vasquez, who died in 1995.
'The House That Jack Built' Debuts in Queens
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JACKSON HEIGHTS — A movie written more than two decades ago by a Sundance Film Festival-honored artist who has since died was recently completed by a Jackson Heights filmmaker and will make its Queens debut Friday as part of the Queens World Film Festival.

"The House That Jack Built" tells the story of Jack, a drug dealer in The Bronx who buys an apartment building so his family can live under the same roof. It screens March 7 at 7:30 p.m. at P.S. 69 on 37th Avenue.

The story is "quite universal from afar," according to one of the producers, Hitesh Patel, 40, who lives in Jackson Heights.

"It's about a man and his family," Patel said.

The film also represents a promise made — and kept — to screenwriter Joe Vásquez, who died in 1995 due to complications from AIDS.

Vásquez was an up-and-coming filmmaker whose movie "Hangin' With the Homeboys" won honors at the Sundance Film Festival in 1991.

"The House That Jack Built" was his last screenplay, and he met two of the current producers, Michael Lieber and Sam Kitt, shortly before he died.

"They knew each other when he just started coming on the scene," Patel said.

"Just before Joe passed he was able to ask them to someday make this story, to bring this film to life. It would be a really amazing thing for him."

Lieber "really stuck to his guns and for many years held on to the script," Patel said, which was at one point optioned through Spike Lee's 40 Acres and a Mule production company.

When those plans fell through, he kept the script, Patel said — and kept his promise.

"It's a very nice commitment to keep," he said.

Patel met the production team in 2011 and a year later they had secured enough funding to produce the low-budget, independent film in the spirit Vásquez would have liked, he said. It was directed by Henry Barrial, who has worked on other films that have debuted at Sundance and elsewhere.

Production on "The House That Jack Built" started in the summer of 2012 and lasted more than three and a half weeks, with one week spent in an apartment building on 77th Street in Jackson Heights.

Despite being written more than 20 years ago, the story still rings true, Patel said, and they kept the majority of the script the same.

"We found that actually the story runs quite universal, but we did make some slight adjustments, mainly in the dialogue," he said.

The film premiered at the L.A. Film Festival in June, to positive reviews, including one from The Hollywood Reporter that noted its "working class realism" that brings the story to life.

It features all local actors and a local crew. Patel, who's lived in Jackson Heights for nine years, said he loved sharing the neighborhood with the actors, photographers and crew.

"Knowing that people were spending money in local spots was pretty nice," he said.

It's also a boost to have been selected for the local film festival, since premiering in Los Angeles and showing at festivals in St. Louis and Maryland. They'll also screen the film in April at the Phoenix Film Festival.

"Being selected for the Queens World Film Festival — it's a great festival that's also local," he said. "We really felt like it's a little homecoming for us."

"The House That Jack Built" screens on Friday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m. at P.S. 69, 77-02 37th Ave., Jackson Heights. For ticket information, visit the Queens World Film Festival's website.