Queens Impact Awards: Filmmakers present the world to Queens during annual movie festival

By Kevin Zimmerman

It’s rare for a visitor to leave Don and Katha Cato’s Jackson Heights home without being shown a movie.

A recent screening, created as part of the Catos Young Filmmakers Program at PS 69, told the tale of a young boy’s struggles with teasing and taunts after the orthodontist puts braces on his teeth. Although not the film’s star, one young actor made quite an impact on the Catos. This boy hadn’t spoken for five years, but with a little coaching from Don he nailed his role.

After the film’s premiere, the young actor stood in front of the audience and acknowledged his mentors.

“This kid hadn’t spoken in five years and he’s up there saying, ‘thanks to Mr. Cato I can now contribute to my class,” Katha said. “He got it. He’s missing life.”

For the past four years, a large part of the Catos’ lives has revolved around the Queens World Film Festival, which brings more than 100 movies from across the globe to the borough each spring.

As volunteers with the Queens International Film Festival, which folded after its organizer skipped town and left behind a pile of debt, the Catos decided it was important for Queens to keep an international movie program going. Each year the festival gets bigger with more entries, a larger audience and expanded venues.

“People come from all over the world for this festival,” Katha said. “It’s our dream that the week the festival runs it’s impossible to get a hotel room in Queens.”

It’s a dream that could have ended after the third festival when Katha was diagnosed with cancer last May.

But after the devastating news, which prompted the two to create a Katha’s recovery web page, neither talked seriously about skipping the 2014 event in March.

“We had an obligation to finish what we started,” Don said. “We had a responsibility to the filmmakers. We had completed three years and this was becoming a nationally recognized organization. We’re not quitters.”

For Katha, the fourth festival served as a goal as she struggled with treatments.

“It was a big motivation for me to open the fourth year,” Katha said. “And opening night was so full of unbelievable energy. It had such a positive impact on the borough.”

Although neither Don nor Katha is a native New Yorker, both found their ways here after realizing their rural backgrounds made them square pegs in round holes.

From her childhood, Katha remembers a neighborhood couple who lived at the end of a dirt road. The man was someone, Katha said, “who hadn’t lived up to his potential.” His wife spent a lot of her time tending to the rose bushes on their property.

Each time Katha and her mother drove past this house the older woman noticing the lush bushes would say, “she sure blooms where she’s planted.”

“We’re planted here in Queens,” Katha said. “And we want to bloom. When you bloom, it’s better for everybody.”

Reach news editor Kevin Zimmerman at (718) 260-4541 or by e-mail at [email protected]