April 18, 2023 By Bill Parry
After three tumultuous pandemic years, Katha and Don Preston Cato have decided to put their Queens World Film Festival (QWFF) on hiatus for a year so they can recalibrate before returning in 2024.
When COVID-19 forced the city to shut down in March 2020, the Catos were forced to shift all of QWFF programming to the digital realm, the first film festival in the world to pull that off.
“We’ve had an incredible three years since with three pandemic festivals and our last one was in November,” QWFF Executive Director Katha Cato told Schneps Media. “But we’re way off our cadence, we’re way off so we’re taking a breath and we will open submissions in November, and we will reappear in our usual spring in 2024. It’s a big change for us this year, but we’re not going dark.”
Instead, they will reimagine their role within their community.
On Saturday, April 22, they are hosting “Passion in Action,” a day-long mentoring event at the Renaissance Charter School in their Jackson Heights neighborhood. More than 100 high school and college students are registered to learn from passionate professionals in the arts, sciences, finances, nonprofit sectors and more.
“Our goal is to feed the pipeline of young New York talent into the New York industry and really be a vehicle or a connector for that,” she said. “Families are so worried when their child tells them they want to be artists, and we’re here to say there is a thriving grassroots community that is very connected to the professional industry in multiple art worlds in New York right now.”
The event brings together these professionals who are committed to helping the young participants discover their career pathways and empower them to see themselves in the driver’s seat of their own careers.
Isabel Tiburcio, the founder of The Gaia Zine, a teen-driven platform for emerging creatives and a co-sponsor of Passion in Action, says the event will be rewarding for all involved.
“This is an opportunity for us, young creatives, to meet our peers from across NYC, build our professional networks, and ask questions in a safe and supportive environment,” Tiburcio said.
Epicenter-NYC, the event’s Community Media Partner will lead attendees through creating their own elevator pitch and New York Women in Film and Television will be on hand to emphasize the importance of joining NYC’s creative community.
“NYWIFT is dedicated to populating the career pipeline with young filmmakers from across NYC and these kinds of events help find and develop new talent,” NYWIFT Executive Director Cynthia Lopez said. “We are excited to work with Queens World, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and The Gaia Zone to bring young people forward.”
Other professionals include Name “TapWaterz” Norris, a paraplegic hip hop artist and disability rights advocate, who uses music as a tool to inspire others, and Amy Simon, the owner of Allure Art Studio, the first Black-owned gallery in Hollis and many others.
“This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done if you ask me,” Cato said. “We think it’s a good deal for everybody and so we’re definitely looking at how to grow this. How to grow this into something that’s much more of a program rather than just a single event.”
She reflected on her own youth growing up in a small town in Southern California.
“When I was a young person I didn’t know anyone who could sit me down and just say ‘OK, this is what you need to talk about, these are things you need to plan for, these are the things you need to question yourself about,’ and to this day I still wonder how much sooner I would have been in New York,” Cato said.