Bushwick Film Festival seeks submissions as organizers adapt to COVID-19

Bushwick Film Festival
A still from “Feral,” where Annapurna Sriram portrays a homeless woman living in New York City’s tunnels, which screened at the 2019 Bushwick Film Festival.
Andrew Wonder

The show must go on!

Amid ongoing restrictions for most gatherings due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, organizers of the annual Bushwick Film Festival are looking at ways to showcase movie makers in the north Brooklyn nabe in the fall.

“Community events like this repair or make us feel like there’s still parts of the world that we won’t lose,” said the festival’s founder and chief executive officer Kweighbaye Kotee. “It’s a place where people from all social classes can come and enjoy film together.”

As they gear up for the event’s 13th installment this October, Kotee and her fellow organizers are planning to downsize in-person live gatherings — with smaller crowds in larger venues to allow attendants to practice social distancing — while looking into possible outdoor screenings, and moving some programming online for the first time in the festival’s history.

During the pandemic, the organizers have been hosting online watch parties of Netflix films and shows made by the festival’s alumni on the web-conferencing platform Zoom — a trial which will help inform how they organize more online programming, Kotee said.

Previous iterations of the event hosted almost 100 flicks — including shorts, documentaries, and features — and consisted of an opening night bash, several panels, karaoke sessions, screenplay readings, and concerts.

Organizers expect to release a more detailed approach in the coming months as they keep an eye on ever-evolving government guidance and what other festivals are doing, such as the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada, which usually takes place a week or two before Bushwick’s fest. For now, though, planners say they may move the festival’s panels to online platforms.

“We’re definitely going in line with what is safe and what people feel comfortable with,” Kotee said. “I’m thinking probably in July we’ll know which options will make the most sense.”

In honor of its 13th event, this year’s Bushwick Film Festival will have a teenage theme for its short films section.

“We’ll probably do a lot of teenage angst and look for short films based on that,” Kotee said, adding, however, that submissions for this year’s festival have been slower than usual. They’d initially hoped to get 1,500 submissions, she said, but organizers now believe the number will likely be closer to last year’s count at 1,300 due to the pandemic.

While most submissions come in between January and March, and between May and July, Kotee speculated that the cancellations of other festivals and the general disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have made artists hesitant to send in their work.

The crisis has hit artists hard, according to Kotee, who is also a filmmaker. She’s heard from fellow creatives in the film industry that around 35-40 percent of them have had projects cancelled or lost income due to the health crisis.

But Kotee hopes that the festival will still provide an outlet for local artists and a sense of normalcy for film buffs amid the virus.

“I think a lot of people over the past few months have found some sort of comfort and peace in art, stories, and filmmaking,” she said. “It’s a way that has brought people together.”

Bushwick Film Festival is still accepting submissions online until July 12 and those wishing to send in their work can do so at www.bushwickfilmfestival.com/submit.