Brooklyn, New York, continually captivates visitors from across the globe with its vibrant, rich history and its cutthroat edge. Brooklynites share a collective culture made up of different heritages, religions and backgrounds. We have a tough-as-nails exterior, with one single heart so big, that beats so loud, it makes living in a bustling, busy city so enchanting. It is our home.
Brooklyn is famous for its growing population of filmmakers, actors, painters, architects, musicians, producers, photographers… and the list goes on. But as large as the arts community seems, it has a way of feeling very tight-knit. Heather Freudenthal, filmmaker and curator of four out of the six films from The Sunday Series (part of the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival), describes this close network of people as “one degree of separation.” Simply put, if you know one artist, you probably know 10.
The Sunday Series takes local independent films to a broader audience and a bigger screen. I sat down with Freudenthal and AoBFF’s executive director, Joseph Shahadi, at a screening of the documentary Battle for Brooklyn and got a closer look at the process of putting this series together.
With the series, Freudenthal says it was important to present challenging, thought-provoking films that represented Brooklyn. “The films take place in Brooklyn, effect those living in Brooklyn, or perhaps the filmmakers live in Brooklyn,” said Freudenthal. “Some are more ‘Brooklyn’ than others, of course.” Freudenthal’s focus shows that ever-present pride that we Brooklynites carry — local films “for the community and by the community.”
Shahadi explains that independent films function as alternative media sources, and hopes to bring more attention to them through the film series. “Through Twitter and other forms of social media, the youth is getting independent news, and film is on that level, serving the same purpose.”
The Kickstarted film Battle for Brooklyn charts the construction of the Barclays Center, a multi-billion dollar sports arena, which claimed its spot in a Brooklyn neighborhood at the cost of the homes of hundreds of families. The film focuses on the community affected by the construction and shows how Brooklyn pride can bring people together to stand up for their home.
The beautiful thing about Battle for Brooklyn is that it not only presents a large, high-impact issue that hadn’t received as much media exposure as it could have, but that it also puts a face behind the issue by following Daniel Goldstein as he wins the battle for a plot of land designated for the Barclays Center. Freudenthal wants viewers walk away thinking “I had no idea this was going on!” She hopes the audience leaves with a different perspective from watching this film — and the others. “I’ve always been a film lover and analyst, so I would always watch films with a critical mind. Every time I choose a film for the series, I want to point out all the qualities about the film that may have gone overlooked by the average audience member.”
Freudenthal has previously worked the Reel Abilities Film Festival, which screened films focused on mental and physical disabilities. In the future, she will be working with Brooklyn’s Public Access TV station, doing on-camera interviews with the filmmakers and airing their films on the station.
As the mastermind — the curator of curators — Shahadi wanted to make sure he brought on board an organizer who could help him in answering one question: “What happens when film series move out of the back room and onto the big screen?”
Freudenthal, reflecting on their partnership, gave some answers. “Have a vision, think on your feet, and work well under pressure. Most of all, know that people will be watching the films, and watching you.” She also stressed the importance of multitasking. Shahadi insisted on the power of persuasion for successful curation. “Give people a reason to come to this film festival. We live in an age here anything you could possibly want to see is right at your fingertips. You don’t have to put on pants and leave your house to watch Netflix. People need incentive.” He also holds many different responsibilities as well. He also proudly wears the title of Interdisciplinary Artist.
The biggest lesson of all in successful curating is to love what you do. It didn’t take much to notice that Joseph and Heather are both well invested in their roles. The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival gives the filmmakers from this borough the opportunity to get their projects to the world.
People from every creed, race and socioeconomic standing are coming together to watch Art of Brooklyn Films and taking all sorts of lessons from them. This is what the arts community in Brooklyn brings to the table: the desire to inspire, the chance to be creative, and the will to do so much beyond that.