2018-03-21 / Features


Don And Katha Cato

The creators of the Queens World Film Festival (QWFF), Don and Katha Cato, did a joint interview with us this week. Don Cato is the artistic director of the festival, and he screens the submissions with his committee, they select the films and curate the festival. Katha says, “[Don] is the filmmaker and true true film lover. He drives the aesthetic and I drive the administration of everything it takes to bring that aesthetic to our festival. I enjoy the coming together, and my experience of the festival is often different from his. [W]e are a joint venture in life and with the festival.”

Don’s prize-winning films have screened at an international and eclectic group of venues and festivals: Anthology Film Archives, National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Lincoln Center, the Dylan Thomas Center in Wales (Best Feature for “Be My Oswald” in 2006), RealHeART Toronto Film Festival (Best in Venue for “Be My Oswald” in 2007) and more. “Dixie Lanes,” a feature film starring Karen Black, Hoyt Axton and Moses Gunn was released in over 40 countries in 1989. Most recently, in 2013 the short, “My Kansas,” which he co-directed and co-produced, had a respectable festival run with wins for directing. “My Day,” on which he was the director of cinematography, editor, sound designer and co-producer brought home several Best Actress awards for Judith Roberts and Best Short awards. Currently Don teaches at the New York Digital Film Academy and the Buckley School for Boys.

Katha Cato, the Executive Director of QWFF, earned an MFA from the University of Oregon and is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Business Executive Education Program. In the ‘80s, she moved to New York with her theater company, Forplay Improvised Theatre. Katha won a MAC Award (Manhattan Association of Cabarets) for Best Comedy, and two Backstage magazine Bistro Awards for Best Director and Best Comedy. The New York Post’s Bill Ervolino named her one of the year’s Most Exciting Improvisers. For many years Katha served as the Director of After-School and Camp Services at the historic Henry Street Settlement. Katha has spent over 30 years developing youth and bringing people together via theater arts, film and video.

QG: How is the QWFF different from other film festivals?

DPC: The stars of our festival are the films. We curate the festival thematically to create blocks of films that are screened together and we design those blocks to help you appreciate these incredibly independent films. We love ideas and we are excited to promote ideas.

KFC: The blocks are curated around an idea and each has a title, a host, and a talk-back.

QG: Purely as a film lover, what are your favorite genres of films?

DPC: I like a well done piece of art. I don’t care how long, what genre, I just want to see an idea well executed. I like an earned ending, that is arrived at through the story, not contrived so that everything gets wrapped up nicely. Some endings of some stories are and should be messy, painful, disappointing.

KFC: I like to laugh, so I like funny funny funny stuff. I like dark comedies.

QG: What do you look for in a film—what makes a film stand out in your estimation, both as film festival directors and as movie- goers?

DPC: I look for craft. The ability to use the camera well to tell the story. Technically you must have good sound. An audience will forgive a few things, but they will not stay with you if they cannot hear it. You would be surprised how many filmmakers struggle with that. I am excited when a filmmaker stays true to the characters and their story.

KFC: I experience the filmmakers and the festival from an administrative position, so I appreciate attention to detail. I really appreciate a nuanced performance.

QG: We see you (Katha) were named Most Exciting Improviser. Are you doing any of that anymore? How have your improvisation skills served you in other spheres?

DPC: She does it every day!

KFC: I just began working out with improv again, about 18 months ago. I started a group called Improvisers of a Certain Age, and we have been having a great time with a form that I have been fiddling with for a long time. We are actually in Improv Fest in March at the PIT in Manhattan. For me, improv is the ability to make the best possible decision based on the available materials and that is how I approach every single thing I do.

QG: What are some of your favorite things to do and places to go in Queens?

KFC: I love the faces of Queens, I actually love riding the 7 and seeing the borough. I love the waterfronts as well.

DPC: I love the remarkable film legacy of Queens. We love the schools our kids attended and I am especially proud that, years later, we have run video programs in two of them.

QG: What are your five all-time favorite movies? (In general—we won’t ask you to play favorites in the festival).

DPC: “Dr. Strangelove” (Stanley Kubrick), “Paper Moon” (Peter Bogdanovich), “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (Robert Altman), “M” (Fritz Lang), “Unforgiven” (Clint Eastwood).

KFC: I’m giving my picks to Don.

DPC: “Elle” (Paul Verhoeven), “Days of Heaven” (Terrence Malick), “Blade Runner” (Ridley Scott), “The Revenant” (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu), and Barry Lyndon” (Stanley Kubrick).

QG: How does screening international films in the world’s most diverse borough, as you’ve referred to it in speeches, affect attendance at your festivals?

KFC: We are bringing the world to Queens and offering Queens to the world by connecting international filmmakers with local filmmakers through the curation process.

By mixing films of all genres and from multiple countries, we can engage such a diverse spectrum of audiences here in Queens and we can direct them to the block of films that might interest them. By pairing international and local filmmakers we are helping our local filmmakers and their networks to make connections all over the world.

We know that international filmmakers appreciate that there is an audience here for any film from anywhere in the world.

I find it fascinating that artists all over the world are concerned with many of the same things: protecting the weakest among us, becoming better stewards of our planet, finding a better way of being with each other while being different. It is an honor to be part of the system that brings all of those voices together.

This column was originated in July, 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.

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