Last Call is a film that is both painfully and refreshingly Now. Centered on the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Queens, New York, the film speaks of the real impact of such an unspeakable tragedy on real, resilient people. The film will be available for streaming worldwide on Sunday, October 3 through the Fall 2021 New Jersey Film Festival.
The hospitality industry is undoubtedly an unsung hero, the backbone of a society that built itself on togetherness. But what happens when people can no longer get together? This is a question that is heavily explored in Johnny Sweet’s pandemic documentary Last Call, an hour-long film that focuses on a variety of individuals out of work as a result of their workplaces - bars - being closed during lockdown. People started to feel the absence of these workers who had acted as the glue of the Queens community, leaving a gaping hole in the local way of life. Through this film, we get a real glimpse at the importance of community through the lens of local watering holes, and a deeper understanding of what the hospitality industry means in a New York context. Sweet includes a plethora of “Thank you emergency/front line workers” signs, recorded hanging in windows and off of buildings, and challenges the viewer to consider the essentiality of hospitality workers.
One interviewee quickly stood out as a sort of main character in Last Call. Her name is Jenna Ellenwood, a bartender at the Sparrow Tavern in Queens and Dear Irving in Manhattan, and she is everything you would expect from someone working a customer-facing position. Jenna has an undeniable quick wit, gritty, hardworking New York state of mind, and an absolutely magnetic personality. She moved to New York for school, got a degree in the arts, and quickly fell in love with hospitality after relying on it as a way to get by. Through Jenna and her circle of coworkers and friends, we reach the heart of the story and witness the ups and downs of life with such an uncertain variable as COVID getting in the way of it.
Last Call opens to the empty streets of a COVID-torn Queens, with audio overlay of reporters expressing the dire state of the world and New York’s status as the pandemic epicenter. Sweet plays on fear, on the dire situations of so many people left with no income, and on the trauma of watching family and friends come down with a virus that is claiming thousands of lives a day worldwide. He calls on professionals to weigh in on the pandemic’s toll, including interviews with doctors and mental health specialists to create what I thought to be an ideal combination of the clinical and personal struggles of COVID.
Yet what I love most about this film is how it portrays a mindset that can only be truly claimed by New York. New York City and its people are hardened. Last Call drew numerous comparisons between the pandemic and 9/11, and one of the biggest differences noted is that although they are both unbelievable tragedies, 9/11 had a demarcation; there was a beginning, middle, and end. COVID is a much more uncertain thing, and we are still in the throes of its impact now, over a year since lockdown was lifted. In spite of all this COVID-related uncertainty, Last Call’s subjects managed to get by. Hospitality workers with aspirations in different fields and mediums had the opportunity to flex their creativity with newfound free time and a need to survive.
Last Call effectively juxtaposes the silver linings and outright negatives of COVID-19, and it hits really close to home. In the wake of unthinkable loss and a complete change to an industry that relies on people and togetherness, this film feels like a cathartic reminder that there’s nowhere to go but up from rock bottom. Don’t miss your chance to watch Last Call and COVID-based short A Moment on Main Street on Sunday, October 3 through the Fall 2021 New Jersey Film Festival.
Show date: Sunday, October 3, 2021. More Info and Tickets are available here.
Last Call – Johnny Sweet (Astoria, New York) The hospitality industry is the artistic heartbeat of New York. Nowhere is that more prevalent than in Queens. Thousands of artists, musicians and actors flock to the city’s most diverse borough to work in the service industry to supplement their dreams. In March of 2020 these dreamers put their lives on hold, self-isolating and sacrificing their income as Queens became the global epicenter of covid-19. As the weeks go by we follow two local bars fight off the virus, financial ruin and the deaths of loved ones, while the frontline workers battle to slow down the death toll engulfing the borough. Under strict and safe filming guidelines, we witnessed how both industries needed each other in order to bend the curve. It’s a tale of two sacrifices that saved not only the lives of thousands but the future of New York. 2020; 60 min.
The Fall 2021 New Jersey Film Festival -- which will be taking place on the Fridays and Sundays between September 10 and October 10 will be presenting the Festival online. All the films will be available virtually via Video on Demand for 24 hours on their show date. Ticket buyers will also have special access to Filmmaker Introductions and Q+A Sessions for many of the films.
To buy tickets go here: https://watch.eventive.org/newjerseyfilmfestivalfall2021