New sponsors step in to replace Queens film fest

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A Jackson Heights couple and an Astoria man who were allegedly stiffed by the Queens International Film Festival’s founder are putting together a slate of films for spring 2011 to ensure that the borough remains a hot spot for cinema.

The Queens World Film Festival is slated to open March 3, 2011, and run for three days. Its founders — Don and Katha Cato along with William Shahin — intend for the festival to fill in the gap left by QIFF’s dissolution after that festival’s founder, Marie Castaldo, was arrested and charged last month with bilking numerous volunteers out of thousands of dollars during the past several years.

The new film festival will screen as many as 60 films of varying lengths and styles, including shorts, features and documentaries.

Shahin said the new entrepreneurs plan on having the festival become an annual event.

“We want to create a real running entity,” he said. “Our mission is to promote the arts in Queens and cultivate filmmaking. We seek to establish relationships with local businesses that want to help our community.”

He said the festival would screen films not only at major institutions in Queens, such as museums, but also in smaller venues, such as a neighborhood Greek association.

Don Cato said the idea for the festival came about shortly after accusations surfaced against Castaldo in December.

The festival will begin accepting submissions within the next few weeks and an official announcement on its slate of films is scheduled for early February.

“The films can be from anywhere and there will be an award for the best film from Queens,” Cato said.

Shahin has held positions in business management and consulting as well as marketing strategies, while Don Cato, a former landscape architect, is a writer, producer and director. His wife is the director of After-School Services for the Henry Street Settlement, which provides students with arts and technology programming.

The festival is one of two to emerge in the borough following QIFF’s demise. From Oct. 22 to Oct. 24, the Astoria/LIC International Film Festival will screen a full roster of movies in western Queens.

Castaldo has been charged with scheming to defraud, grand larceny, petit larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and harassment after allegedly failing to pay four vendors associated with the 2007 and 2008 festivals, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

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

She was also recently accused of keeping as many as 46 dogs in cages without food or water in upstate New York, said Brian Shapiro, executive director of the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

For more information on the Queens World Film Festival, visit

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 6:01 pm, October 10, 2011
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