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Bridging Art and Community with Film - Kweighbaye Kotee, Founder of Bushwick Film Festival

Bushwick Film Festival turns six this year! From October 2nd to the 6th you have a great opportunity to get involved, whether by attending, contributing to the BFF foundation, or volunteering (there still might be a couple of spots available)

Kweighbaye Kotee, photo courtesy of Bushwick Film Festival.

Bushwick Film Festival turns six this year! From October 2nd to the 6th you have a great opportunity to get involved, whether by attending, contributing to the BFF foundation, or volunteering (there still might be a couple of spots available).

We had the pleasure and honor of sitting down with Kweighbaye Kotee, founder and Director of Programming of Bushwick Film Festival, who is not only a young and talented entrepreneur with good spirit, but also has a passion for Bushwick's community and arts.

BFF began in 2007, and has since been expanding, growing, and evolving along with the growth of technology and communications, and the transformation of our current neighborhood. As Kweighbaye says, “Film has been a bridge between art and the community. It is such a collaborative effort, and there are so many part to it. It’s creative, but also philosophical in a way, it has to do with everything: writing, design, creativity, ideas, storytelling. It brings it all together to great one thing. And so many people work together to make this happen.”

Kweighbaye Kotee, Founder and Director of Bushwick Film Festival (photo courtesy of Bushwick Film Festival).

How did the Bushwick Film Festival get started?

KK: Like all things, Bushwick Film Festival started with an idea and the support from friends, all who were recent college grads. We were a bit naïve and didn't really know what it meant to create a festival. What encouraged me was that I got very interested in film and editing when I discovered video art during my last year at NYU. When I realized that I could actually contribute to the movie making process I knew I really wanted to take my life toward a direction in film.

When I moved to Bushwick, I saw a great opportunity here because of the amazing culture, the artists, and the community—old and new. And I thought, "I want to have a film festival because it gives artists a platform and an audience, it involves the community and I could also continue learning about filmmaking and creativity in the process” It was a win-win situation across all boards.

Could you tell us a brief history of BFF and how it evolved?

KK: In the beginning we just wanted to have fun.We were all young and in our early 20’s, and didn't really know the impact a festival could have…It was amazing though. So many people showed up for the festival and everyone had a great time.

We worked with Kristina Garza, who used to work with an organization called Make the Road, which gave cameras to young Latino students to document stories of their family. She hooked us up with amazing filmmakers and such great films. The audience was blown away…People were crying in the audience…and we knew this was something special and we were going to move forward.

A lot of things have changed. I reached out to Community Board 4, and started attending meetings and getting involved with what was going on. I reached out to schools, senior citizen homes, the job search community place on Wyckoff...

Our films have also gotten so much better and so has our confidence. We really go deep and pick the best films. The neighborhood became popular, and that also helped.

What BFF projects are in the works?

KK: Exciting things are happening! We are starting…a BFF Mini-mag which will come out once a month. We partnered with a local printing shop and a sponsor called Sebastian Printing, a family owned business that knows the community well and are the foundation of neighborhood businesses and their signage.

We have developed the Youth Film Program, a 6-week program with a curriculum for 13-14 students that are set up with class discussions on storytelling, documentaries, screening films, field trips and, at the end, work with the class to make one short film. The goal is to expand to more schools.

We also want to start these programs in senior citizen homes. We started working with one woman, an 80-year old who has been living in Bushwick for 40 years and is a member of Community Board 4.

Another program is Media Literacy for small businesses and local people in the community, which would help small shops like delis and laundromats create an online presence, and help them with advertising. That sort of thing closes the gap between them and the new businesses coming in - to integrate them.

And next spring, we are starting Indie Film School, a cheap way for anyone to learn about film history and theory. This is still developing, and we ask that people come with a project in mind…

Kweighbaye Kotee, photo courtesy of Bushwick Film Festival.

Where do you see BFF in the next 5 years? And in the future?

KK: We want to be a pillar in the community. We would like to continue bridging the gap, open a theater in Bushwick, continue developing our education programs, most importantly. And finally, we would like to be a destination festival.

As a young entrepreneur, what would you say your input in BFF has been and how that has affected you and those around you?

KK: Bushwick Film Festival added to my life…I grew more conscious of the impact a film festival can have on a community. I also grew aware of how a festival balances out the film industry in many ways and what it means to create a space for artist to exhibit work. Finally, I really came to see that as an African woman who has the opportunity to direct and program a festival that has a growing audience, I could set a positive example for entrepreneurs, especially young women of color.

It takes a very high level of commitment for the festival to run at its highest potential. Advice I would give myself in the past is to buckle down a little bit and take advantage of the opportunity. Looking back, I realize how serious and how much work you need to put into a film festival. It is very demanding.

 

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