The NY Cat Film Festival Visionary Awards

Kim Best & Gina Zaro Visionary Awards

The NY Cat Film Festival Visionary Awards

The Premiere of the 5th Annual NY Cat Film Festival is a huge milestone. How did we get here? Creating a cat film festival seemed an impossible mission five years ago.

Gina ZaroIt was Gina Zaro, the heart and soul of Dr. Elsey’s, who planted the seed of the idea with me. We had both loved the full length documentary “Kedi” about street cats in Turkey. Gina said their company — that “speaks for cats” — would support a feline rival to my dog film festival. But I was skeptical. Where would I find short films about cats? I couldn’t find any films about cats on the internet. Who could possibly be making these films? And how would I find them? Gina believed I could make it happen, as I had with NY Dog Film Festival. Dr. Bruce Elsey stood behind Gina Zaro’s vision and gave me the support to explore the concept.

How could I possibly say no to these lovely people who generously supported both my NPR show DOG TALK® (and Kitties, Too?) and has also underwritten my podcast CAT CHAT®?!

Could I Pull Off a Cat Film Festival?

The first year I launched the NY Cat Film Festival with only 6 months to pull it together. Given that the festival was an unknown quantity on such a specific topic, I did not expect results. So I was astounded to receive numerous entries online at FilmFreeway. Then I watched every film with my heart in my mouth, fearing that the films would not meet my standards: I worried there would not be enough good ones to put together a program.

Amazingly, I discovered one wonderful movie after another. It was a revelation! I was so grateful and happy. Choosing films for a two hour program turned out to be difficult, but not in the way I had anticipated: not because there weren’t enough quality films, but because there were so many to choose from!

Keeping the Festival Going During Covid

Gina and Dr. Elsey’s sustained the Festival year after year — especially during the height of the pandemic, when theaters shut down and people were in forced isolation during Covid. Gina and Dr. Elsey’s didn’t blink — they kept the festival alive. I like to think the festival also kept cat-loving filmmakers inspired to keep creating.

For all these reasons it was incumbent on me to create a NY Cat Film Festival Visionary Award specifically to honor Gina Zaro. She just retired from Dr. Elsey’s, but they are continuing to honor her legacy and the future of this festival. We all owe her gratitude for the joy these films have brought to thousands of cat lovers around the country — and will continue to do for years to come.

The Gina Zaro Visionary Award for a Filmmaker

Kim BestOne filmmaker’s work has been represented with a film every year of the Festival — sometimes with two films, like this year.

Starting with the 1st Annual NY Cat Film Festival, I discovered that I had chosen two very different movies from one filmmaker. Her name was Kim Best.  I figured it was a fluke. I pick films blindly, based on merit and originality so until I had my final decisions, I had not even realized that two very different film styles had come from one woman: Kim Best.  When the 2nd Annual festival came around, I had the joyful job of sorting through a mountain of 51 entries. It was only after I had picked the winners that I found that once again, two stylistically very different films were made by one remarkable person: Kim Best.

One Filmmaker Got Chosen Year After Year

For the 3rd annual Festival there was a huge crop of films submitted — 38 entries — yet lo and behold, one of Kim Best’s movies made the final cut.

Last year, the 4th annual Festival had even more entries because we had to skip a year because of Covid. Out of 57 entries, you guessed it — two very different movies made by the inimitable Kim Best made it to the big screen.

Hard to believe that when the Festival approached its momentous 5th year, yet again two of my picks were made by the Diva of the Festival. I knew it was time to memorialize her.

I created the Gina Zaro Visionary Award for Kim Best — named in honor of the woman who inspired the Festival itself, and bestowed on Kim because her work embodies everything this Festival is about: finding joy and humor in our relationship with cats and celebrating all the ways kitty cats touch our lives. Thank you Kim for bringing to life year after year — from an idea and support from Gina Zaro at Dr. Elsey’s — movies with style, class and whimsy.

—Tracie Hotchner

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