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Queens World Film Festival marks third anniversary of COVID-19 pandemic shutdown with special screening in Long Island City

Katho Cato poses at the Queens World Film Festival salute for Elmhurst Hospital staff. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

March 13, 2023 By Bill Parry

To commemorate the third anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic citywide shutdown, the Queens World Film Festival is collaborating with the Zip Code Memory Project and a number of Queens-based cultural institutions for the premiere of “Together, Not Alone,” at The Local in LIC on Sunday, March 19.

The event will be bittersweet for Queens World Film Festival founders Katha and Don Preston Cato who were forced to shift all of its programmings to the digital realm, the first film festival in the world to pull that off.

“It’s the third year to the moment that we jumped online which was unprecedented and I have not really reflected about that moment at all,” said Queens World Film Festival Executive Director Katha Cato. “We’ve just been swimming for sure as far as we can ever since. So I’ll probably be crying all night.”

Queens World Film Festival will join several other cultural institutions at The Local LIC to mark the third anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown Sunday. (Courtesy of Queens World Film Festival)

The event will honor and explore the role of citizens and community-based cultural organizations that responded quickly to create a historical record of life in Queens during an extraordinary moment in time. The centerpiece of the gathering will be the screening of the Zip Code Memory Project’s “Together, Not Alone,” a 19-minute short film by Gabriella Canal and Judith Helfand that captures the shared experience of New Yorkers who were strangers and after months of COVID-19 isolation, came together for an arts-based experiment in community building.

“I love the title of the film because even now when we’re together we’re still feeling alone and this event Sunday is a conscious effort to be together, break bread, have food and talk, and then
do screenings and have our culture reflected back to us by our storytellers,” Cato said. “Then have a conversation about it and then all go home and bring the reflections with us.”

Queens World Film Festival will then screen several segments of “The Listening Tour,” a series of poignant short films featuring school children, kitchen staff from neighborhood delis, and others that will be preserved by the Queens Memory Project, the community archiving program founded in 2010 and supported by Queens Public Library, Queens College and CUNY. Next up will be a screening of a short film from the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College.

“They’re bringing Portraits of an Epicenter, a six-minute documentary film compilation of LaGuardia students’ work chronicling their experiences in Queens under the COVID lockdown,” Cato said. “The students worked with the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives as well as faculty members from the English and Photography departments.”

There will be additional screenings from Union Docs, Stoop Stories, and the American Asian Documentary Association. The event will open with refreshments from The Queensboro, the Jackson Heights restaurant that mobilized its resources to feed first responders at Elmhurst Hospital as the neighborhood became the epicenter of the epicenter. There will also be “gratitude walls” where participants can share their lockdown stories and how the community is readjusting in the post-COVID era.

“Here’s what I think of the past three years: we peed in the pool, we broke all of our toys and we were mean to our brothers. We took a time but I don’t think we’ve learned anything, right?” Cato said. “So I’m glad to be a part of something that’s asking us to experience this kind of an event in a different way. More relaxed, more community. Let’s see, let’s talk, let’s write on the wall like cave drawings and just kind of be together on a Sunday afternoon.”

Doors open at The Local in LIC at 13-02 44th Ave. in Long Island City at 3:30 p.m. Screenings and Q&A get underway at 5 p.m. and socializing and networking will begin at around 7 p.m.

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