Interview: Joseph Shahadi (Co-Founder, The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival)

Since Friday, we have been going down to Brooklyn’s St. Francis College for the 2nd annual ‘The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival‘.  Over the last five days, we have seen talented collections of off beat short films, socialy conscious documentaries, quirky comedies and much more.  ‘The Art of Brooklyn’ takes pride in its “BKLYN-Centric” theme; meaning every film screened finds direct connection with the diversely talented borough.  We sat down with ‘The Art of Brooklyn’ founder and co – producer of its film festival Joseph Sahadi.

How did the idea to put on a film festival come about?
St. Francis College approached Jason Cusato, our Festival Director, about showing his film Apostles of Park Slope last year and he decided to include other films from Brooklyn filmmakers. The event snowballed very quickly into a festival celebrating Brooklyn filmmakers. I came aboard as a consulting producer but before the festival was over last year we agreed to organize and work together to make The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival an annual event.

Why did you choose St. Francis College as the primary venue for the festival?
We have a great relationship with St. Francis—they have a beautiful theater and they are very supportive of our festival. We are happy to be in Brooklyn Heights because the neighborhood is really accessible from other neighborhoods in Brooklyn as well as Manhattan, which suits us as a Brooklyn-centric organization.

The festivals program spans the spectrum of genre and style in film, from experimental to documentary; can you give us your own definition of “film”, what it is and what it can be?
We don’t focus on genre or style, but rather the relationship of the film or filmmaker to Brooklyn. That accounts for the broad spectrum of films you’ll find on our schedule. This year we have powerful narrative films, non-linear experimental films, animations and documentaries, whose only common thread is a shared connection to the borough. For example aside from the many films created by Brooklyn filmmakers, this year’s selections include a Turkish film inspired by Brooklyn’s diversity, a documentary created by an Italian filmmaker about a Hassidic Brooklyn rapper and a claymation short by a young animator who was born and raised in Brooklyn…New South Wales, Australia. In other words, the AoBFF features filmmakers who are Brooklyn-born, Brooklyn-based and/or Brooklyn-centric.

Besides the Brooklyn centric aspect of the festival, what other criteria did you look for when choosing from the submission pool?
All films submitted to The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival are viewed by a Film Screening Panel, which is comprised of award winning filmmakers and writers from all over the New York area. This team selects the films overseen by the Festival Director, Jason Cusato. The quality of the film, the level of craft, and its independent spirit are their only other criteria.

The Art of Brooklyn Festival is part of a larger non profit organization The Art of Brooklyn; what is the history of this organization and how has it found its place in the community? Are there any other film specific activities?
We incorporated as a nonprofit last year to create an infrastructure to carry out our mission. The Art of Brooklyn is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the art and culture of the borough of Brooklyn. We curate a conversation between the new, Brooklyn-based art community, immigrants and transplants and those born and raised in the borough through our programs: A live performance series, gallery exhibitions, and our annual film festival that focuses on Brooklyn-centric art and artists.

What are some other types of events that The Art of Brooklyn organizes?
We show new, independent films and Brooklyn-centric cult-classics year round in unusual venues. We have held gallery exhibitions of visual art and we have produced a story telling show as part of a Live Performance Series we will expand next year with further events.

Outside of public donations, does either the film festival or non profit have any kind of financial SPO airship through the city or borough?
In order to succeed long term an arts-based nonprofit has to build a broad base of support.

As a 5o1c 3 nonprofit we accept public donations, and are eligible to receive city, state and corporate funding. We’d rather not talk too much about our funding sources at this stage. Hopefully next year we will be able to make a big announcement about it.

If someone wanted to support or get involved with The Art of Brooklyn, how would you recommend going about that?
Anyone who is interested in working with us is welcome to connect through our website.

What’s next (hypothetical answers welcome) for The Art of Brooklyn?
This has been a growing year for us. We have emerged from a crowded cultural landscape in a comparatively short period. We will continue to grow and establish a long-term presence in Brooklyn, which is the site of the first big art scene of the 21st century. The director Elliot Lester (Blitz, Love is the Drug) said, “I heard about the AoBFF in Los Angeles from (producer) Dustin Williams and asked to be a judge. Brooklyn is long overdue for a major film festival. These guys are smart and well-connected, and I’m excited about this festival — it could be Brooklyn’s Tribeca.” We are certainly happy to be described in those terms and it is really validating to hear that people within the industry are aware of us already. We just want to keep going.

Personally, what is your favorite part of the borough?
I love living in Brooklyn. I love the diversity and spirit of this borough. I am a practicing artist myself and I have shown my work internationally but I feel very at home here.
Twitter: @TheArtofBklyn
Facebook: @AoBFF
YouTube: TheArtofBrooklyn


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