The Bushwick Film Festival kicks off its 15th year of screenings and events tonight, beginning with a red-carpet opening night celebration. Between today, November 1, and Monday, November 7, over 100 independent films from directors based in New York City and around the world will play at Williamsburg Cinemas, marking the first year of the festival’s partnership with the venue.
It’s the first year since the pandemic that the festival will be completely in person. The program includes feature narratives, feature documentaries, and several shorts blocks organized by genres and themes, including several premieres.
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A block of short films titled New Yawkers and screening on Wednesday afternoon presents eight stories about the lives of New Yorkers. One short, “Another Life to Live,” centers Lorraine DiPaolo, a Brooklyn resident whose husband was paralyzed not long after they got engaged. Nevertheless, as a couple, they lived out a “tremendous love story,” as DiPaolo narrates in a trailer. Another short called “Greywater,” directed by Daniel Lombroso in collaboration with the New Yorker, follows his investigation of illegal poaching in Jamaica Bay only to discover an intricate web of unexpected food security and environmental justice issues.
Screening Friday night is Sun and Daughter (Cuidando al Sol) by Bolivian first-time feature director Catalina Razzini, a coming-of-age film about a ten-year-old who must grapple with her emotions in the face of news that her father is leaving for the capital. In his absence, in the beautiful and mystical Andes Mountains region of Lake Titicaca, she builds a life for herself while awaiting his return. The lush cinematography includes spiritual shots of the lake’s waves at dusk and joyful scenes of the children playing with llamas.
You Won’t Break My Soul, a shorts block showing late Saturday afternoon, unites a group of films that highlight the resilience of Black trans and LGBTQ+ people. Among the shorts is “How Not to Date While Trans,” a dark comedy in which the narrator asks viewers, “Have you ever been in a park watching a really cute couple making out wishing it was you — but it can’t be you because you have a penis? Is that relatable?” In another short, a longer one clocking in at 43 minutes, “MASHED,” the protagonist is forced to attend pelvic floor physical therapy after having too much sex.
Bushwick Film Festival Founder Kweighbaye Kotee, an immigrant and New York University graduate, moved to the Brooklyn neighborhood 15 years ago and launched the festival after being discouraged by the lack of diversity at production companies and offices, where she didn’t feel like she would be supported or thrive. Meanwhile, a new wave of artists and creative people was beginning to move to the neighborhood. “At the time, we were just like, let’s have this event and just bring filmmakers together,” Kotee told Hyperallergic.
But around five years in, she realized that the festival was successfully uniting the artistic and film community in unique ways, sharing stories of underrepresented people, and giving a platform to new voices.
“I realized that as an immigrant woman of color, owning a film and media company was a really important role to be in, especially since it was so lacking at that moment,” she said. “That’s when I really started digging in, understanding the purpose of the festival, how we wanted to be in the neighborhood, and how we wanted to position ourselves in the larger film world.” The festival grew as Bushwick grew.
The festival’s return to a fully live cinematic experience is accompanied by events that aim to bring filmmakers, industry professionals, artists, and movie lovers together. The opening reception tonight will take place at Lot 45 and features cocktails, small bites, and a DJ, and a screenplay reading on Sunday morning at Boerum Studios will spotlight three short screenplay drafts read by actors. To close the festival, a Bushwick Film Festival awards night will honor filmmakers in categories such as Best Feature, Best Short, and Best Web series with speeches and remarks.
Kotee recommends a spirit of discovery in approaching the expansive slate of films on view: “I’d say the best way to approach the film festival is by saying, oh — I have some time on Thursday at 2 pm. Let me look up the program that’s playing then.”