This year’s Queens World Film Festival (QWFF), starting March 15 in Astoria, is the largest in its six-year history, featuring 144 films and representing 23 nations.
“The jump in quality is exceptional,” said Katha Cato, executive director for QWFF.
Cato began curating the festival six years ago with her husband and artistic director, Don Cato, from their Jackson Heights apartment. Six years and dozens of film screenings later, the duo is still working out of the same apartment, using interns and paid staff to put together this festival, which is a yearlong endeavor.
The filmmakers gathered at the Museum of Moving Image on Thursday to mingle and watch a sizzle reel of the films that will be screened later next month.
This year, the film festival has expanded to a fourth venue in Sunnyside at All Saints Episcopal Church. The other venues include The Secret Theatre in Long Island City, Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria and P.S. 069 in Jackson Heights, where the group will showcase their newest category of films: Family Friendly.
Don Cato and staff screened the 551 films submitted and created specific blocks of films grouped by theme.
“It’s just incredible,” Katha Cato said. “You’re going to see films in combinations that you can’t see anywhere else in the world.”
Katha Cato described the programming process as “heartbreaking [and] gut-wrenching” at points, when they were forced to whittle down the submissions.
Ultimately, the programmers “did the best we could in terms of putting forth a festival that honors the borough, reps the borough and brings the rest of the world here,” she said.
The festival will feature films from 29 Queens filmmakers including the first-ever documentary on Jamaica Bay titled “Jamaica Bay Lives” and a documentary titled “Julio of Jackson Heights,” highlighting the death of Julio Rivera, a gay man who was murdered in a Jackson Heights schoolyard in 1990. Councilman Daniel Dromm makes an appearance in the film, which also shows the beginnings of the Queens Pride parade and festival that was inspired by Rivera’s story.
Katha Cato said attendees can expect a large variety of films and an experience that they will not find at other festivals and high-level discussions with the filmmakers after each screening.
“You can expect a lot more features, you can expect exquisite films, scary films, very challenging films,” Cato said.
The QWFF is growing every year, but Cato said the organization is “trying not to grow beyond our capacity to deliver.”
The directors are still seeking a space to work out of as they are currently set up in a makeshift office ― they set up 6-foot tables in their living room filled with index cards of extensive notes on each film and organize the blocks of films that way. The festival is self-financed with a few sponsors but the Catos are looking for partners and endowments to keep the festival running in the future.
“Everybody wants us to get bigger fast,” Cato said. “Pockets are tight.We need people to come out and see these films. We need big partners and we need potential.”
Opening night will take place at the Museum of Moving Image in Astoria at 6:15 p.m. on March 15.
For a full list of films and screenings, visit the website here.