Are there really so many films by and about Bushwick?
You'd be surprised! We were! The artists have moved to Bushwick in huge waves. Bushwick itself is like a Hollywood movie set. There are so many filmmakers here now too. The other day when Laree and I were putting up film festival posters—yes, we put up our own posters still—we got stopped by at least three Bushwick filmmakers in just one hour. But out of the 25 films (shorts, music videos, animation, docs) that we selected to be screened this year, we only have four Bushwick films where the directors were either from Bushwick and/or the film was shot in Bushwick.
The Williamsburg Film Festival and the Greenpoint Film Festival just passed. Why are there so many North Brooklyn film festivals?
Because they are just so many creative people in North Brooklyn. And we just don't want to always have to go to Lincoln Film Center or Angelika or the city in general to be able to see indie films. We definitely don't want to have to fly anywhere to see indie films either! Film is probably the most significant and powerful tool of transformation of our culture and leaving it up to the art houses to decide which films get exhibited is like leaving it up to Hollywood to decide which films get produced. The emergence of [new] film festivals in North Brooklyn, the US and the world for that matter in my opinion shares certain characteristics with the emergence of early independent filmmakers who refused to allow producers or funders to control the content of their films. Film festivals refuse to allow complete control over the exhibition of films. So the more opportunities their are to exhibit films the better! Besides, the history of good filmmaking is a history of filmmaking made outside the system, or at least in conflict with the system. The same goes for film festivals. Some really great gems were discovered at film festivals that would not have made it to the theaters. Now, as for business, we just have to call them up and make sure we don't have our festivals on the same weekend!! Hahaha.
What distinguishes the Bushwick Film Festival from its neighbors?
The festival is small, simple, and concentrated over one weekend in one venue. It keeps the attention on the films and the filmmakers. Laree and I are very single-minded individuals, and we've found it to be pretty amazing what can be accomplished when you focus your attention on only the essence of things. You are more likely to get better results focusing on one thing at a time. So we apply our way of being to the film festival. We feel that the audience, filmmakers and community get so much more out of the weekend this way. I for one get really confused when their are like 100 films to see over 30 days at 100 different locations! I think good films and filmmakers can really get lost in the mix. So we keep it simple. We also know all of our filmmakers, we have watched every single film that we have screened over the course of five years, and we try to highlight them as much as we can on our website and in our newsletters. We wouldn't be able to serve the filmmakers this way if we didn't keep it simple.
What distinguishes Bushwick from its neighbors?
Well, I feel like Bushwick is like constantly being reinvented. We've been here for six years and we still feel like it is new and there is so much more to discover and be discovered. Laree was joking the other day that you can be walking by a hidden creepy door and walk in and you discover, like, a huge garden party. Also it feels like a self-sustaining community. I'm starting to find that I don't really need to leave Bushwick anymore. Everything is here.
What do you hope the community will take away from the festival?
We hope that the community will develop an appreciation for independent film and gain exposure to the amazing stories that so many filmmakers have to tell without having to travel far and spend a lot. We also want people to walk out of the festival with new ideas and a sense of discovery. Finally, we want the community to feel like it's all here in Bushwick: movies, music, art, salons, grocery shops, schools, everything. Like a little village.
How did the festival get started?
Laree and I moved in the neighborhood six years ago, and it was very clear even at that time that there was something happening here. There was just so much energy, culture and history already here, and then top that off with all the new artists moving in in waves. As I mentioned earlier, it seemed like a Hollywood movie set, but it was real! Even much more now, today. Everyday in Bushwick seems like a movie. Anyway, at the time I was still an aspiring filmmaker that couldn't afford to go back to school to study film—especially after NYU, haha—and I was really trying to figure out the best way to learn about the industry, meet other filmmakers, and help other artists and filmmakers who were also in similar positions to get their work out there. Luckily, I had a great group of friends that were also artists, and I approached them with this idea. Laree Ross, who also has a passion for filmmaking, particularly animation and design, was very interested, especially in being able to design without corporate limitations. And so at 23, we partnered up and started our first venture.
Where do you hope to see it go in the future?
We definitely have a vision for the BFF. First, we would like to expand our international programming, so Laree and I will be doing a bit of traveling this year to go to screenings and meet international filmmakers and distributors for next year's program. We are also interested in hosting more community events and are brainstorming ways that we can further promote health and exercise for all ages in the neighborhood and contribute to young women in the community. Laree is also working with a team to design festival merchandise and we plan to open our online BFF store this year. We have so many ideas and each year we just try to fine tune the festival and make it better.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart