Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn Film Festival is evolving, and so are its films

'We wanted to create a festival that feels like a movement.'

May 17, 2019 Sara Bosworth
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The Brooklyn Film Festival, an annual event that now spans 10 days and five Brooklyn neighborhoods, released this year’s lineup of 133 films centered around the titular 2019 theme of “The Gathering.”

The festival, organized by the Brooklyn Film Society, will run its 22nd program from May 31 to June 9.

“It’s a particularly difficult moment in history,” Marco Ursino, the festival’s executive director, told the Brooklyn Eagle in an interview.

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“We don’t want to … make it all about Trump and about his administration. Yes, we’re mad. We don’t feel comfortable. But we want to use the festival not to fight anybody, but simply to create a place where we can speak freely and people can express opinions without being retaliated on Twitter. We wanted to create a festival that feels like a movement.”

Marco Ursino, the festival's executive director. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Film Festival
Marco Ursino, the festival’s executive director. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Film Festival

Organizers announced in a press release on Tuesday that this year’s lineup showcases its largest presence of female directors to date — 46 percent of the films are directed by women.

Though that number is still less than half, it is “10 percent up from last year’s edition,” said Ursino. “We are proud to be able to give space to women directors in a world that doesn’t give its fair due to women.”

Women do make up four of the six programmers behind the event, and “the festival is run mostly by women,” he said.

Ursino and his colleagues have been modulating the festival’s tone — via the lineup, the branding and the venues — since it began. Those shifts are meant to keep pace not just with the global conversation, but with the changes and moods of its own neighborhood.

“When we started, Williamsburg was a war zone. Brooklyn was on the map, but for other things. And now, we find ourselves in an extremely expensive, gentrified place,” he said. “It’s a different audience.”

Much like Williamsburg, where it has always been based, the Brooklyn Film Festival rebranded more than once in the past two decades.

The festival debuted in 1998 as the Williamsburg Brooklyn Film Festival. “It was a dangerous neighborhood with a bad reputation,” Ursino said. “There were a lot of drugs. Although, the artists started moving into the neighborhood even before we got here.”

By 2002, it had expanded into the Brooklyn International Film Festival, and became the Brooklyn Film Festival in 2010.

“The festival has been changing — but not in the principal parts, in the mission,” Ursino said. “The idea of discovering new filmmakers, a new generation of filmmakers — that’s what gets us excited.”

Ursino and his colleagues think of the festival not just as a way to bring good cinema to the borough, but to establish its place in the film world globally. This year’s selection of films come from 30 countries that span across every continent (with the exception of Antarctica).

Decentralizing the festival — expanding to theaters outside of Williamsburg — is a part of that process. The event will spread across seven venues in Brooklyn this year — Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, Windmill Studios in Greenpoint, the Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn, Syndicated in Bushwick, UnionDocs in Williamsburg, Made in NY Media Center by IFP in Dumbo and Kickstarter in Greenpoint.

For a full schedule of this year’s lineup, visit the Brooklyn Film Festival’s website.

Correction (3:30 p.m.) — This article has been updated with the accurate name of the first iteration of the festival. It was called the Williamsburg Brooklyn Film Festival in 1998, not the Williamsburg Film Festival. 

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