ll archives: Bushwick Film Festival's Kweighbaye Kotee
Name: Kweighbaye Kotee
Current location: Brooklyn, NY
Where are you from?
I was born in Liberia, West Africa. I moved to the U.S. in 1986 with my family after receiving political asylum due to the developing civil war in Liberia. I grew up in Newark NJ.
I received a scholarship from the Wight Foundation in Newark to attend a boarding school called Blair Academy. I later went on to get a B.S. at New York University
Business & Formal Title:
Bushwick Film Festival, Founder & Director Slate Property Arts & Culture (SPACE), Executive Director
Tell us about the Bushwick Film Festival. How did it come to be?
The Bushwick Film Festival is an Independent film and media company that exhibits independent film and content year round via digital and broadcast networks, culminating with a four day festival of film screenings, workshops and panel discussions with industry leaders each year in October.
It came to be because of love, friends, and commitment. I love, love, love films and think filmmakers (more so indie filmmakers) are heroic revolutionaries that fight against great odds to tell their stories. They are my heroes and the life lessons I receive from their films are invaluable—that was the driving force. I called friends and told them I wanted to start a film festival and asked for their help. We were all just out of college and were unhappy at our jobs and tired of working for companies that weren't really representing things that we believed in.
+ Finally, it took a commitment to not giving up.
What is your company slogan/mission?
Slogan: Independent Film Is Alive in Bushwick Mission: To encourage diversity in the industry, support creative freedom and celebrate passionate independent filmmakers in Bushwick & Worldwide.
What did you do before launching the Bushwick Film Festival? At what point did you realize you wanted to be an entrepreneur instead?
I was super restless and felt a little empty before the Bushwick Film Festival. I worked full-time at a real-estate company in NYC and was still finishing up my media, culture and communications degree in the evenings at NYU. I knew I really loved film, I secretly wanted to be a free spirited writer/director and I loved being around creative and passionate people. I just hadn’t figured out how to put all those things together in a way that made me feel good about my life.That said, I didn’t know I wanted to be or even was an entrepreneur until about five years into the festival. Partly because I didn’t realize what I was doing was entrepreneurial. I just wanted to put my energy into something that I cared about, have the freedom to experiment with different ideas and work with exciting people.
Whenever you decided that you were ready to take the leap, what were your next steps?
Well I just took the leap. I didn’t have steps in place and figured it out as things went along. Which is how I learn best. What happened next? I reached out to a number of friends and worked closely with my friend Laree Ross to develop the festival. She did all the design and I did a lot of outreach but we both spent most of our time promoting and event planning. We didn’t understand branding, marketing or even understand what it meant for two women of color to start a company. We just had passion and a close network of friends. Of course after years of building the festival I definitely plan in advance, but understand it really is a one step at a time sorta gig.
What is the biggest thing you overcame launching the Bushwick Film Festival?
Although funding is always a challenge for arts, the most challenging thing for me was to separate myself from the business. Meaning that if I failed in some area of business it didn’t mean that I was a failure.
Would you describe the Bushwick Film Festival as your “dream job”? Why or why not? What constitutes a dream job for you?
Being the Founder and CEO of The Bushwick Film Festival is hands down a dream job. I get to travel all over the world to see films, I give back to my community, and I work on many creative projects. Most of all, the opportunities for growth are enormous. With each obstacle overcome (there are many!) I’ve become more courageous. It’s not a perfect job. It has required a radical level of commitment and attention. But it’s definitely a dream job that keeps on giving back.
Any other projects/side hustles you’re working on? Tell us about them.
Yes! I host a talk show on BRIC TV and online and gearing up to rehearse for an experimental dance piece. However, the top two exciting projects that I’ve been working on are:
An Art Fund: I've partnered with BFF premiere sponsors, Slate Property Group to create an art fund! The Slate Property Arts and Culture Endowment (SPACE) works to preserve the cultural diversity and artistic sustainability of North Brooklyn communities by providing access to community spaces and offering $80,000 in grants. As SPACE's Executive Director, I'm really excited to watch this new endeavor take off.
A Feature Length Documentary: As I mentioned, I secretly wanted to be a filmmaker and over the last year I’ve been working on my first feature documentary called the Bushwick Diaries! The film is an intimate look into the lives, beliefs, and stories of 20 people, from different walks of life, who call this neighborhood home. After witnessing its cultural transformation over the years, I realized that the portrait of Bushwick, as I had known it, was fleeting. The Film is my endeavor to authentically capture the spirit of this neighborhood on film and share the experience. It's a love story about Bushwick written by multiple authors.
Entrepreneurs live and breathe their businesses. How do you balance work and life? Do you think that’s even possible?
I generally have work-life integration. I haven’t really reached a point in my business where I can clearly separate the two. There are still a number of areas where I haven’t trained people because it’s just not economically possible at this stage. However, I do have a weekly sacred day. Most often time it is Saturday but if for some reason I have a shoot or something I can’t reschedule it falls on any other day of the week as long as I have a day of rest, reflection, and self-care.
What does your daily routine consist of?
I love the mornings! I’m up at 6:30am. I usually send a good morning message to my boyfriend then I always make my bed first. When I was going through a rough patch I read a few books and came across the line “messy bed, messy head” that stuck with me and helps set the tone for the day. I normally meditate, write a one page gratitude list, pray and sometimes catch a yoga class or head to the gym. I almost always have a bowl of mixed fruits and tea. I then head to work at my office which is across the street! Then next thing I know it’s 8 or 9 hours later. I really get lost in and enjoy my work and my team. I also always run into someone in the neighborhood that I know and have a quick catch up chats. Bushwick is filled with really interesting people so I love that. At night if I don’t have plans to go out with friends or catch an event, I watch movies, listen to music, call friends or read a book!
You have to do it and you hate it – what are your least favorite tasks to do for the Bushwick Film Festival?
Newsletter, end of year financial reports and business taxes!
You’re on the verge of a business-lady-breakdown. How do you unwind?
Deep breathing, calls to mentors and loved ones, hot yoga, meditation, dancing, tears. In different orders depending on the meltdown. Lol.
What did you think you’d be doing now at age 10?
I thought I would be a violinist. The grade before a violin teacher walked into my classroom and played a beautiful piece of classical music which at the time I hadn’t really heard before. I was so moved by it that I went on a mission to play music that moved people the way it moved me. But it was more difficult than I imagined. It required discipline, sacrificing time with friends and being okay with failure. So I later ended up quitting but remembering that makes me realize that?
Tell us 3 of your cannot-live-without ladypreneur apps.
Top 5 favorite cities?
New York, Paris, Berlin, Los Angeles and... Guadalajara where I met my boyfriend ;)
Red, White, Sparkling or stronger?
Lol. I actually don’t drink.
Tell us the best place to eat in Bushwick. If it’s your kitchen, share your best recipe.
Omg! It’s too tough. Bushwick has so many amazing restaurants many of which I have yet to try. The ones I frequent include North East Kingdom, Montanas, The Rookery, Lot 45, & Guacocoa. But I may be a tiny bit biased because those are all within a 1/2 block radius but they are so darn good. I also cook a lot.
Words to live by: Lead with your heart and love yourself always without condition.
In 3 years you’ll be: You know I’ve recently realized that projecting into the future can be limiting. The possibilities are far greater than what I can normally allow myself to imagine. That being said, I would like a few things to be a part of my reality in three years. First, I would like to have a nice little family.. In terms of career, I hope to continue to thrive as an entrepreneur and creative professional. Regarding The Bushwick Film Festival I’d like to be able to create more job opportunities to help sustain the community and also scale up by doing projects internationally. We have Paris, Berlin and Liberia on our radar. Also, I’d like to open a film studio/cinema in Bushwick that offers training and job opportunities to recent high school graduates in the district as unemployment rate is high. Finally, I’d like help filmmakers create a sustainable living and be able to fundamentally change the lives of our winning filmmakers. As for my creative career, I’d like to have completed my first feature film, The Bushwick Diaries, which is currently in production and have already begun working on my next film. Last but not least, I’d like to officially be a published author by then.
What advice would you give to budding ladypreneurs interested in film or running a festival?
It’s been nearly a decade since I decided to start a business. Finding a great team, trusting them, communicating clearly, responding to emails and phone calls quickly, taking good care of your relationships, paying invoices on time, being honest, willingness to consistently let go of characteristics/people that don’t add value to you or business. Going way outside of your comfort zone. Building an unshakable confidence and self-worth. Adding value to the community you service. Persistence. Those are a few pieces of advice that I have realized are important over the years. I offer coaching sessions to budding entrepreneurs and festival directors so please feel free to get in touch via my personal email!
Socialize with Kweighbaye
Photography: Emily Malan