According to its web site, November’s Queens International Film Festival is “a truly unique New York event.” For many people who got involved with it – and founder Marie Castaldo – it’s been more like a street con where the “mark” never gets paid.
After seven years of support from elected officials and local businesses as a “good for Queens” event, Castaldo and her festival have been outed as over-promising, under-delivering and, in light of unsatisfied court judgments, deadbeat.
Numerous workers and vendors have come forward with years’ worth of unpaid bills, bounced checks and other complaints about Castaldo, also known as Marie Castellano Castaldo, Marie Jocelyne Castellano, Jocelyne Castellano, Marie Jocelyne Rousseau, Marie Helene Rousseau, Marie J. Plante and Jocelyne Plante.
Borough President Helen Marshall, an early festival booster, is distressed, according to spokesperson Dan Andrews. “The allegations are troubling and obviously cause for concern,” he said.
Long-time supporter Comptroller-elect John Liu is equally upset. “These are disturbing accusations that will be looked into,” he said, also through a spokesperson.
This year, events, including the awards ceremony featuring Kris Kristofferson, were cancelled – with the star left standing at the airport, according to Anna Gaffney, director of sales and marketing for the Holiday Inn, billed by the festival as a “sponsor hotel.”
“The entire operation was marked by disorganization and details left undone – on the first day, the projectionist didn’t show up for a couple of hours,” she said, adding, “Ultimately it fell on us to manage the events here.”
Gaffney told The Courier, “From the hotel’s perspective, we made out okay,” because the attendees booked their own reservations. “The festival didn’t give an address so we took a credit card – it was declined. Finally we got a temporary debit card, so I charged the bill immediately.”
Castaldo incorporated in New York as the “Queens County International Film Festival” in July of 2003. The “Queens International Film Festival” incorporated as a not-for-profit in 2008.
The Rego Park address is an apartment where someone “receives mail for Castaldo, but won’t sign for certified mail,” according to Stacy Lavender, owner of a company she claims is owed several thousand dollars since 2007. “[Castaldo] is never physically there,” she told The Courier.
Dan Nuxoll, who rented Castaldo film equipment, is also trying to get paid from 2007. “She explicitly dropped the name of several councilmembers and politicians when she rented from us, saying that we could trust her to pay because she had so many esteemed institutions behind her,” he said.
Nuxoll told The Courier that when he said he would come to collect, Castaldo told him, “If you come here tomorrow, I have some men here who are going to make you regret it.”
In 1997, Castaldo reportedly sponsored a dinner for the first annual Hollywood Film Festival at a swank Los Angeles restaurant – and paid with a bad check for $35,006. “A court battle would ensue and the debt would remain unpaid,” according to reports.
Resurfacing in Sullivan County, New York as “Jocelyne Castellano,” she founded the “Narrowsburg International Independent Film Festival” in 1997 with her then-husband, actor Richard Castellano
That episode reportedly resulted in 14 lawsuits over unpaid wages and bills, including one by their former attorney; judgments for over $21,000; Richard sentenced to jail for a separate scam; and Castaldo, as “Jocelyne Castellano,” filing bankruptcy to avoid liability.
She was reportedly also charged with assault for allegedly telling the lawyer, Deb Ireland, “Enjoy your life while you can.” The case was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.
Astoria resident and aspiring filmmaker Dayna Gonzalez paid $20 for a “day pass” to this year’s festival. “It turned out to be a really bad day,” she said. “It was embarrassing. This was supposed to represent us – it’s a real shame.”
Repeated attempts to contact Castaldo or the festival organization went without response.