The 5th annual Queens World Film Festival is two months away, but the husband-and-wife co-founders, Don and Katha Cato, held their kickoff party Sunday in Astoria. Nearly a hundred filmmakers, actors, volunteers and alumni gathered at Monika’s Cafe Bar, across the street from the Kaufman Astoria Studios.
“It was wonderful to have so many young and creative talents embracing the festival this year,” Katha Cato said. “Our fifth year will be our biggest and best with 116 lush and fabulous films from all around the world. It’s getting bigger here. We had 28 films made right here in Queens submitted this year and we’ll be taking 16 of them to the festival.”
The festival runs from March 17-22 with opening and closing nights to be held at the Museum of the Moving Image.
“We’re at the big kids table now,” she said. Other screenings will take place at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City and at PS 69 in Jackson Heights.
“We’re trying not to grow it too fast because we don’t want to get too far ahead of our finances, but we’re moving past survivable and we’re doing things right,” Cato said.
Last month she retired after 22 years as the Director of After-School and Camp Services at Manhattan’s Henry Street Settlement and is now working on the Queens World Film Festival as the full time executive director.
“I had 900-1,200 kids every day while I tried to run the festival,” she said. “I don’t know how I did the festival part time. There’s so much to do it’s crazy.”
Cato was juggling much more than two jobs. In 2013 she was diagnosed with cancer but she and Don never considered canceling the festival, then in its fourth year.
“We had an obligation to finish what we started,” Don Cato 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.”
The fourth season served as a goal for Katha after she lost 75 percent of her liver and her thyroid and struggled with her treatments. She suffered a reoccurrence last fall and went through more radiation treatments in October. Katha went in for more scans last week and will find out soon if she has to wage a third battle with the dreaded disease.
“My mindset is if I have another fight ahead of me, I have decided to go with my passion,” she said. “The festival is in tremendous shape even if I have another challenge ahead of me.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr