Arts & Culture

4 films to get excited about at this year’s Bushwick Film Festival

A star actress flees her crimes in 'You Can't Escape Lithuania.'
A star actress flees her crimes abroad in ‘You Can’t Escape Lithuania.’

For a while there, Bushwick’s reputation as a Brooklyn neighborhood was mostly infamous, its personality largely reduced to reports of cultural appropriation and brutally unfunny SNL skits. But that game has tired, and so Bushwick has made it out of the (Heavy) woods of Brooklyn-mocking to reemerge in its pupal form as a hub for creativity and culture.

A prime example of the aforementioned is the annual Bushwick Film Festival, a juried three-day festival that showcases the work of independent filmmakers, the majority of whom hail from Brooklyn. From Sept. 29 through Oct. 2, you can catch all kinds of exciting cinema that covers contemporary issues: otherness, reproductive freedom, gang violence, entrepreneurship and more. This year’s festival also features a Women in Film Day on Saturday, which includes brunch, a panel discussion on women in film & television, plus films directed by women.

The festival kicks off tonight at 7pm at Bushwick’s Lot 45 (411 Troutman St.) with a conversation between filmmaker Ira Sachs (Love is Strange, The Delta) and festival director Kweighbaye Kotee.

It’s a juried festival, so everything you see is bound to be at least baseline enjoyable. But here are our topic picks of a few special flicks to look out for this weekend:


For the woke community organizer: Am Gangster, dir. Moritz Rechenberg (Running time: 1hr 46 mins.)
Sept. 29
House of Yes (2 Wyckoff Ave.)

Opening the festival, I Am Gangster plays out an intense drama about “the vicious cycle of gang culture,” exploring the impact of gangs on a Latino community in LA, particularly on street kids who are left to fend for themselves.. Rechenberg’s last film, Ticked (2009), was created in collaboration with housing projects in LA, and this film marks a similar, grassroots-oriented followup to its predecessor. Whether gang violence is in your past or your present, or you just want to learn more about the issues that face at-risk youth in New York and beyond, this is a must-see. Q&A with the director to follow the screening.

“The Bushwick Film Festival exhibits independent film and media in the heart of New York City’s new locus of eclectic creativity and contemporary culture: Bushwick.”

For the arts-minded activist: Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, dir. Rita Coburn Whack & Bob Hercules (Running time: 1hr 54 mins.)
Oct. 1
House of Yes (2 Wyckoff Ave.)

Maya Angelou isn’t just those poems you see on the train. This new documentary celebrates the iconic memoirist, poet and civil rights activist by “weaving her words with rare and intimate archival photographs and videos, which paint hidden moments of her exuberant life” during significant moments in American history, such as her inaugural speech for President Bill Clinton. The film includes interviews with friends and family including Oprah Winfrey, Common, Cicely Tyson and, how about that, Hillary Clinton. A must-watch for anyone following the election.


For the self-starting feminist: Dream, Girl, dir. Erin Bagwell (Running time: 62 mins.)
Oct. 1
House of Yes (2 Wyckoff Ave.)

Do you dream? Are you a girl? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you should definitely catch this short film by Brooklyn-based blogger and Feminist Wednesday founder Erin Bagwell. Dream, Girl showcases the stories of inspiring and ambitious female entrepreneurs in New York. Ambitious women, take note: this film screened at the White House in May, and Bagwell has made one of Oprah’s almighty lists. Move yourself up on the relevance richter and catch this movie on Saturday.


For the resident alien: You Can’t Escape Lithuania, dir. Romas Zabarauskas (Running time: 1 hr 20 mins.)
Sept. 30
Syndicated Theatre (40 Bogart St.)

Immigrant stories make up the foundations of New York’s rich cultural history, and Lithuanian-born Zabarauska’s world premiere of You Can’t Escape Lithuania tells a strange — albeit fictional — one that you need to hear. The film is meta-fictional, following Romas’ experimental filming of a star Lithuanian actress who tries to escape her home after murdering her mother, but its themes are central to contemporary issues facing immigrants in America such as otherness, asylum and the fiction of privacy. Karmic perk alert: the film is both LGBTQ-allied and “vegan-friendly.” The director is an LGBTQ rights activist, and only vegan materials were used for the clothing and art design. Cast and crew consumed only vegan food throughout the shoot.

The Bushwick Film Festival runs Sept. 29 to Oct. 2. Tickets range from $9-12. Passes begin at $75. 

Can’t make the festival dates? The BFF’s programming runs year round with classes, workshops and digital content. Stay tuned in on Twitter: @BushwickFilm

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