The borough’s rich past and promising future in the movie industry is at the heart of the annual Queens World Film Festival, which kicked off on Thursday.
The festival runs through March 25 with 189 narrative, documentary, animated and experimental films.
Katha Cato, executive director of the festival, said the films hail from 36 nations and 65 are by women. In addition, 31 of the films being screened are by Queens filmmakers.
Cato said they received more than 600 submissions. The selections will be shown at the Museum of the Moving Image and Kaufman Astoria Studios’ Zukor Screen Room.
“We did give some guiding themes asking people to explore free speech, the immigrant experience, women, the foibles of family,” Cato said. “I think that really resonated with people.”
The films are organized into blocks carefully curated by her husband, artistic director Don Cato, who is a filmmaker.
“When Don curates, he has the ability to put a film from Woodside with a film from Germany with a documentary from Manhattan and animation from Buenos Aires,” Katha Cato said. “It brings it all home to us. Everyone around the world is very concerned about the same things.”
Those topics are as diverse as the borough that hosts the festival — LGBTQ issues, activism, horror, fantasy and more.
Many of the offerings are set in New York City such as the “The Fever and the Fret,” from director Cath Gulick, which focuses on a 14-year-old bullied girl who escapes to an alternate world.
“Fighting for Justice,” explores the murder of Imam Maulama Akonjee and his associate, Thara Uddin, in Queens and community efforts to have it classified as a hate crime. It was directed by 30-year-old Anuz Thapa, who lives in Rego Park.
“The festival is important because it’s a platform for the young filmmakers like us to showcase our work and get connected with the filmmakers,” Thapa told amNewYork.
Queens native Jan Oxenberg will receive one of the two “Spirit of Queens” awards during a showing of her 1991 film “Thank You and Goodnight,” including a post-screening conversation with producer James Schamus.
The other will go to Vincent Gagliostro, a filmmaker and activist whose “After Louis” starring Alan Cumming is featured at the festival.
Short films include “SURE-FIRE,” from Michael Goldburg, about an NYC con man pretending to be a movie producer.
There are entries by young filmmakers the Catos work with in local schools.
The festival is a year-round passion project of the couple, who live in Jackson Heights and have close ties with the community. It rose in 2011 from the ashes of a previous Queens film festival run by other people that ended in controversy. The Catos thought it was a project worth saving.
“The industry exploded here with Kaufman Astoria Studios,” Katha Cato said. “All of the Broadway actors in the 1930s were making movies here.”
Kaufman Astoria has expanded and Silvercup Studios, a former bakery in nearby Long Island City, was transformed into another studio complex.
During the year, the festival holds outdoor screenings around the borough.
“You see everybody coming out of the subway and see us screening films from Mexico, Bengal, China, Germany,” said Katha Cato. “People stop and stand there because they are experiencing a film in their language. It’s really exciting and it brings the community together.”