Building a Better Bushwick Film Festival

Short Film Screening (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Running over the course of a weekend, the Bushwick Film Festival was New York’s smaller, local, more intimate alternative to more sprawling events like the New York Film Festival. The four-day fest (October 3-6) got a lot of mileage out of its relatively small scale programing— four feature films, 10 short films, four panels, an awards show, even a television show taping. Feature and short film screenings drew large crowds and even panel discussions attracted downright respective numbers.

In many ways, the sixth annual Bushwick Film Festival was a coming out party. The feeling of achievement was in the air and in the programing. An excited and endearingly unrehearsed Kweighbaye Kotee, BFF CEO and director of programming, declared the year “their best program ever.” In terms of space, the Light Space Studio is a major step up from previous locations. The fest could even boast of major film fest accolades: two Spike Lee sponsored films (Una Noche, Doubles with Slight Pepper), two US premieres (Roxie, We Will Riot), a Tribeca Film Festival winner (Una Noche), and four locally shot/Bushwick resident made films (We Will Riot, Sleepwalking, Woman Who Hates Plants, The Misadventures Of Incredible Dr. Wonderfoot).

Building a Better Bushwick Panel

We Will Riot, the opening night premier, was an appropriate choice in this regard. Directed by Lithuanian filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas, the film splits its time between Bushwick and Villus. An interesting film, though marred by an occasional gaps in logic and action, the film follows Luke, a young American man of Lithuanian-African American lineage, who takes up and flies off to Villus. There he finds love and something else familiar to a Bushwick audience: the scourge of gentrification.

A resident of Bushwick for many years herself, Kotee made it a point that the festival emphasize and discuss the future of filmmaking, the future of Bushwick, and how the two aligned. In a pre-fest interview with Hyperallergic, Kotee explained “I started reaching out to the local community board, and I attended meetings, while getting more involved to the community in any way I could. It opened my eyes what was happening in the community, and helped me to build relationships with people who lived here all of their lives.”

Hence the inclusion of a panel what would be an unusual addition to most other film fests: “Building a Better Bushwick.” The five person panel — Thomas Burr Dodd (Artist/Owner of Brooklyn Fireproof), Jose Lopez (Made The Road NY), Meryl Meislier (Art Educator) Daryl-Ann Saunders (Artist/Photographer/Activist), and Nadine Whitted (Bushwick Community Board District Manager) — discussed the importance of creating a dialogue between neighbors, artists, schools, and the community board. There was variance as to how this dialogue might be started and sustained, but no one was in disagreement that newcomers, artists among them, needed to join in that conversation and bring their unique skills and talents. The one place a stiff opposition did spring up was at with the notion of a “better” Bushwick — one person on the panel and three in the audience took umbrage with this notion, feeling that Bushwick is not so bad as it is now, or ever used to be.

New Media Featured Projects Screening: Colorism by CC Stinson

Other panels kept up the fest’s future leaning gaze. “NY Women in Film” looked at the opportunity and stories of women in a changing world of cinema. (Optimistically, a large number of films at the fest were made by female directors and filmmakers. Moreover, the staff of the BFF is entirely female.)

“Shifting Storyscapes” took stock of the role and impact of digital platforms on the nature of storytelling. The digital revolution, the panel offered, has made everyone a storyteller, and as digital platforms evolve, so to will stories and the way they are told.

And so will the Bushwick Film Festival, it seems. Murmurous complaints about the difficulty of hearing the films over noisy fans point to one ways the fest can stand to improve its presentation, but this was generally an exception to the rule, and, moreover, balanced by a fun, easy atmosphere where beer and popcorn were in ready abundance, complements of the house. If the Bushwick Film Festival continues to make strides like that at this year, and keeps up its focus on the future of film and its community, year seven promises to be another interesting and thoughtful art event.

The Bushwick Film Festival took place from October 3–6 at Lightspace Studios (1115 Flushing Avenue, Bushwick, Brooklyn).

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