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Bushwick Film Festival founder Kweighbaye Kotee on celebrating diversity in film

Nineteen countries are represented at this year's film fest. About half were created by women and 40 percent by people of color.

"Are You Glad I'm Here," directed by Noor

"Are You Glad I'm Here," directed by Noor Gharzeddine, is playing at the Bushwick Film Festival.  Photo Credit: Bushwick Film Festival

A celebration of film diversity and culture will be on display this weekend in Brooklyn.

The 11th annual Bushwick Film Festival will show 95 films over five days. About half of the films were created by women and 40 percent by people of color. Nineteen countries are being represented in this year’s festival.

“I wanted a space that could curate diversity,” said Kweighbaye Kotee, founder of the Bushwick Film Festival. “Movies and arts have always had a history of bringing all walks of life together."

Kotee immigrated to the U.S. to escape the Liberian Civil War. She graduated from NYU and moved to Bushwick to start the festival.

The festival expanded to 15 feature films and 80 short films this year but started as a way for Kotee to show films she liked. She soon realized her influence could be a platform for aspiring storytellers. 

“I wanted to get into film and media and I just didn’t know how to,” Kotee said. “I just really wanted to show films that I liked to people in the community. Later on I really understood what it meant for a woman like me to run a film festival.”

Films from France, Denmark and China will be shown in the feature film category. Five hundred films from over 40 countries have been featured in the last decade.

Former competitors worked with legendary filmmakers such as Spike Lee. Brooklyn-native Stefon Bristol’s short film, "See You Yesterday," was shown at last year’s festival and Lee is producing a full-length feature of the project currently in post-production.

“I’ve been to a lot of film festivals with my short [film]. Just to be around fellow Brooklynites that get it, that’s special, man,” said Bristol, 30, this year’s recipient of the Rising Star Award for the festival. “It’s a very culture-driven festival. Brooklyn represents a lot of different cultures and we need that.”

Bristol’s film was shot in Brooklyn neighborhoods: Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy and East Flatbush. He saw the festival as a perfect audience to show his film and said organizers like Kotee welcomed his message.

“Bushwick [Film Festival] seem like they had the audience that I needed. They were warm and welcoming,” Bristol said. “They’re very receptive to a very politically driven film regarding people of color.”

Kotee wants to expand the film festival to support aspiring filmmakers in Brooklyn. She teamed up with B&H Photo Video to start the workshop Bushwick Stories this summer. Fifteen filmmakers between the ages 16 and 24 were selected for a five day session where they were mentored by professional storytellers and created five films to be screen on Sunday.

She hopes to continue the program next year and started the non-profit Bushwick Film Institute to fund it.

“By putting a camera and real life experience in the hands of young people in the community, I think that’s a next level impact that I’m excited for,” Kotee said.

Films will be shown at Syndicated Bar Theater Kitchen, LightSpace Studios and other locations in Brooklyn. The Bushwick Film Festival runs until Sunday.

If you go: The Bushwick Film Festival runs through Sunday. For a full rundown of screenings and ticket information, go to bushwickfilmfestival.com.

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