Interview with Executive Director Joseph Shahadi (The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival)

The Art of Brooklyn is a nonprofit, founded in 2011 that celebrates, nurtures and supports Brooklyn’s independent film scene– a local scene with global influence. We produce an annual film festival, curate our own VOD streaming channel and create original, branded media about Brooklyn art and culture.

The 6th Annual AoBFF runs June 8-12, 2016 at multiple venues across the Borough.

Interview with Joseph Shahadi:Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Joseph Shahadi: The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival ( is the only international independent film festival in the world dedicated to the vibrant Brooklyn indie film scene. We screen films and entertain audiences across the entire borough, including neighborhoods traditionally underserved by cultural events. And we are committed to inclusion among filmmakers, film genres, and audiences. The Brooklyn scene is overflowing with talent, in every neighborhood and community. But since Manhattan-adjacent north Brooklyn neighborhoods are often seen as the focus for art and culture, the bulk of Kings County is excluded. AoBFF has successfully expanded the notion of “Brooklyn” to include the entire borough again.

We’ve also developed our own streaming channel, called Brooklyn On Demand ( — the only video-on-demand platform for Brooklyn-centric titles. By creating our own channel we’re making Brooklyn’s indie film scene accessible to audiences internationally, and affirming the borough’s importance as a center for independent film and media. recognized us with a 2016 Brooklyn Innovation Award for Brooklyn On Demand.

We are a 21st century film festival; we’ve maximized our value to filmmakers and audiences by expanding the idea of what a film festival can — and should— do.

MT: What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2016)? 

JS: Well I can’t tell you about the films yet because our submissions are still open and we watch everything that comes in until midnight of the last day, which is April 22nd this year. (Yes, we’ve programmed films that were submitted to us at the last minute. More than once.) But one thing we do know is that the films will reflect the diversity of Brooklyn’s independent film scene, both in the borough and around the world. In addition to our “main campus” in Downtown Brooklyn, which is easily accessible from all over the borough and Manhattan, we have screenings set for neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn— Sunset Park, Fort Greene, and Bay Ridge.

This year we’ll have more panel discussions than ever, drawn from current events. One of these is about women in film in front of and behind the camera, co-produced with New York Women in Film and Television. And our Guest Festival Director for 2016, award-winning film maker Eric Trenkamp will host an intensive mini-seminar on micro-budget filmmaking alongside representatives of the city and state film offices.

We also throw a pretty great party to kick off the festival every year with amazing food and an open bar.

MT: What are the qualifications for the selected films? 

JS: We are the only festival in the world that exclusively features films created and catalyzed within Brooklyn’s independent film scene, which has members living and working independently in multiple countries. So in order to qualify for the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival filmmakers have to make a case for how they participate in Brooklyn’s indie film scene either in the borough itself or around the world.

MT: Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why? 

JS: Festivals often overlook films that don’t fit neatly into genre categories because they aren’t sure how to program them. That can have a chilling effect on experimentation in independent filmmaking as that kind of limitation is internalized. We want to support the next generation of filmmakers in pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling so we introduced a category for experimental films called Film As Art, and we give our Vanguard Award for excellence in this category. Frankly, we’ve been surprised at how popular those screenings are. I once sat next to a pair of very old ladies and I gently inquired if they were at the right screening. They informed me that they’d made certain to attend Film As Art, then they watched intently, asked great questions at the talk back and gave me a piece of hard candy on their way out, like a boss. It goes to show that you can’t make assumptions based on an idea of the popular taste: audiences are smarter and cooler than that. At least in Brooklyn.

MT: What motivates you and your team to do this festival? 

JS: We were inspired to found the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival in 2011 when we realized that— even though Brooklyn is the site of the first great cultural renaissance of the 21st century— the borough didn’t have a large scale, international, film festival devoted to it’s own scene. We have worked to establish ourselves as a real resource for filmmakers and audiences throughout the borough. We were (and are) motivated to produce an inclusive, international independent film event where everyone feels welcome. As far as we’re concerned there are no “wrong” neighborhoods. In 2012 (the last year see were able to keep careful track) we had guests from every single zip code in Brooklyn.

MT: How has the festival changed since its inception? 

JS: We are bigger. Since our start in 2011 we’ve grown every year— with new screening locations, more entries, and a growing network of filmmakers and audience who follow us on social media and look forward to our next festival. We’re now a part of Brooklyn’s cultural landscape.

And of course creating and launching Brooklyn On Demand has been a huge part of our growth as we head into our sixth year. Now we are able to participate in the evolving distribution model that streaming media provides. In October 2015 we launched BKOD as a Roku channel alongside Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime and it has over 100K views and 7000+ subscribers to date. We recently expanded our slate of offerings to include original series as well as films. Soon we’ll start producing our own original content.

MT: Where do you see the festival by 2020? 

JS: The director Eliot Lester (Nightingale, Blitz), who has been a judge with us for years, called us “Brooklyn’s Tribeca.” That’s as good a description of our goals as any: We want to be Brooklyn’s flagship indie film event and continue to create platforms for the best of the borough’s independent media makers.

MT: What film have you seen the most times in your life? 

JS: I watch a lot of films for work and pleasure but I always return to movies I loved as a kid. I’ve probably seen David Lynch’s Dune (1984) 75 times. The sleeper must awaken.

MT: In one sentence, what makes a great film?

JS: I think what writer Terence Des Pres says about fiction works for all kinds of films too: 1) Vigorous engagement with life, 2) imaginative force to subvert and remake the world, and 3) the sense to keep them “locked in stubborn love with each other.”

MT: How is the film scene in your city?

JS: It’s amazing. Brooklyn has become an international center for independent film and media makers. We are proud to be their film festival.




Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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