The duo behind the Queens World Film Festival are asking for the public’s help to sustain their art programs aimed at helping children, seniors and emerging artists explore the world of film.
The festival, which Katha and Don Cato began five years ago, screens between 80 to 100 films from local, national and international filmmakers at the Museum of Moving Image and venues throughout the borough.
Along with the festival, the directors run a Young Filmmakers program, where they give fifth-graders at P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights a chance to make their own films. The program predates the film festival and both Katha and Don have many years of experience running after-school art programs and teaching film.
“We both came to the arts much later, much more in high school and college, kind of stumbling across it and for me to be involved in the theater when I was in high school was like, ‘Oh, so this is where I fit,'” Katha Cato said. “The children are very excited to do this.”
The class is an inclusion class, which means children with varying needs are taught in a classroom with two teachers, with one being a licensed special education teacher. Cato said this program works well in classes like this because all children get their “fingers on the button and you have to plan and you’re working with a team and it really develops their critical thinking skills.”
The short films are then screened at P.S. 69 and other venues as part of the Queens World Film Festival. The genres of each film vary and students are encouraged to speak up and take on leadership roles. Cato attended the first day of this year’s program on Wednesday and said two of the students had already come up with a name for their future film studio.
The Indiegogo campaign was started to help fund this program, along with “Old Spice,” a program that screens short films at the Regal Heights Senior and Rehabilitation Center for free every other Thursday. Cato said both of these programs are crucial because they cater to “underserved communities.” Seniors are encouraged to discuss the short films and have engaging conversations about what they liked and did not like.
The money they receive will also go toward paying projectionists who help during the festival’s encore screenings. Once the films are screened at the film festival, Cato and her staff re-screen each film several times throughout different venues. Cato said this allows filmmakers to receive continuing exposure and a chance to advertise their films through social media and word of mouth. The projectionists who help with this endeavor travel from places as far as the Bronx to work screenings around Queens.
“The person is doing screenings at opposite ends of the borough,” Cato said. “I gotta help them get there. I gotta help them eat. I’ve gotta pay them for the time because it’s not a sustainable model to have an international film festival with everybody just volunteering.”
When money is running low, Katha and Don fill in the gaps from their personal pockets. Katha said that she and her husband are very passionate about each of their endeavors but want to put on a festival and program that Queens residents are proud of and want to embrace.
The goal for all of these programs, according to Katha, is to foster a love of film and to foster communication skills.
“From the beginning of time, we have had an oral history and an ability to tell the stories so that future generations stand upon them and reach for greatness,” she said. “Unfortunately that is an art form which should be basic to us as humans, it’s dying. We talk in emojis, so keeping up with the technology, putting equipment in young people’s hands that are button savvy but using it to tell a narrative…this is crucial to our survival.”
To donate to these programs, visit the Indiegogo campaign here.