The Reel Queens: New organizers step in to replace Queens Internationall Film Fest

By Nathan Duke

Three Queens-based film festivals are planning to fill in the cinematic gap left in the borough by the Queens International Film Festival’s dissolution after its founder’s arrest on charges of bilking her employees out of thousands of dollars.

A Jackson Heights filmmaker and his wife, who runs a city arts program for youths, are joining an Astoria resident with a marketing and business background to launch the Queens World Film Festival in March.

The trio had all volunteered at QIFF and were among a long list of people associated with the Queens film world who were allegedly not paid for their efforts.

But the festival is not the only one in the works this year. This year’s Sunnyside Shorts Film Festival will screen its fourth-annual selection of movies Sept. 25 and the Astoria/LIC International Film Festival will run from Oct. 22 to Oct. 24.

Katha Cato, the director of after-school services for citywide youth arts initiative Henry Street Settlement, said the Queens World Film Festival will provide the borough’s numerous filmmakers with a venue at which to screen their work.

“There are artists and filmmakers of all types throughout Queens,” she said. “It’s a very active community that has to go outside the borough for their work to be seen.”

Cato founded the festival with her husband, Don Cato, a Jackson Heights filmmaker who teaches at Manhattan’s Digital Academy, and William Shahin, an Astoria resident whose background is in marketing and financial services.

“The neighborhood continues to grow and people are very eager to engage with the arts,” said Shahin. “There’s clearly a real need in the area for a film festival.”

Don Cato said the festival will likely screen up to 60 movies, including shorts, features and documentaries, from around the world. But filmmakers from Queens will get a discount on their entry submission fees and the festival will feature a special award for the best film made in the borough.

The festival will open March 3, 2011, run for three days and probably include screenings at major arts institutions in Queens as well as smaller venues.

The festival will begin to accept submissions within the next few weeks and its roster will likely be announced in February. It has already generated interest from borough residents, but also people from France and Belgium, Don Cato said.

Katha Cato said the festival’s name will represent not only the selection of movies from around the globe that it will screen, but also Queens’ reputation as a beacon of diverse cultures.

“It’s the most diverse place on the planet,” she said. “There’s a market here for every type of film and language.”

The festival is still lining up its venues and its founders said they are still seeking sponsors.

All three of the festival’s founders had volunteered their time and money to the Queens International Film Festival during previous years until it recently went bust. That festival’s founder, Marie Castaldo, has been arrested and accused of failing to pay numerous employees and vendors in 2007 and 2008, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

She has also been charged upstate after she allegedly kept as many as 46 dogs in cages without food or water, the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said.

The Catos said they were owed more than $5,000 from Castaldo, while Shahin spent $800 of his own money on her festival.

“We’re using that festival as a road map of what not to do,” Katha Cato said. “One of the problems in that festival is that promises were made that could not be honored, and we’re not going down that road. That was an embarrassment to the borough and we’d like to make it right. This will be a quality deal with great films.”

On Sept. 25, the Sunnyside Shorts Festival will screen eight films at 7 p.m.

This year’s pictures come from Sunnyside; Manhattan; White Plains; London; Buenos Aires; and Springfield, Mo.

For more information, e-mail the festival at [email protected].

The Astoria/LIC International Film Festival, which was founded by Woodside filmmaker Dennis Cieri, will screen films, host short story and script readings and host panel discussions this October. For more information on the festival, visit its website at astorialicff.com.

Read film reviews by Nathan Duke at criticalconditions.net.