Meet Kweighbaye Kotee CEO and founder of the Bushwick Film Festival

Hailed as one of Brooklyn’s most celebrated events, the Bushwick Film Festival is a valuable platform for emerging and underrepresented filmmakers. Now in its 12th year, the festival provides industry access, creates job opportunities, and brings together a community of storytellers and audiences from all walks of life.

CEO and Founder Kweighbaye Kotee is dedicated to her community and passionate about the arts, serving on the Bushwick Community Board as co-chair of its arts and culture committee. She launched the Bushwick Film Festival in 2007 to celebrate independent film in her community. As the festival grew to become one of Brooklyn’s premier movie events, she realized that it was serving a greater purpose, by contributing to the borough’s artistic, cultural, and economic growth.

The Bushwick Film Festival has showcased local and international filmmakers from over 40 countries, providing a platform for diverse stories from all people, especially women, people of color and the LGBTQ community. It also heralded the launch of the Bushwick Film Institute, a nonprofit organization committed to elevating community through the power of film, empowering underrepresented storytellers and increasing diversity.

Born in Liberia, Kweighbaye immigrated to the United States with her family at the brink of the Liberian civil war. She attended public school in Newark, New Jersey where she was awarded a scholarship from the Wight Foundation to attend Blair Academy, a private boarding high school. From there Kweighbaye graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Media, Culture and Communications from New York University.

Kweighbaye shares how she channeled her passion to build her independent film and media company from scratch.

I had a lot of part-time jobs here and there. I had a job working at a fast food restaurant while in high school and I worked as an evening receptionist while in college. My first full-time job was as an on-site sales assistant at the Corcoran Group. It was like being an Office Manager but for super fancy properties. I helped the sales agents with their clients and processed contracts and updated database.

It’s funny, my first big break was actually leaving my job to spend more time on building the Bushwick Film Festival. I was at a crossroads, a moment where I knew I could no longer work full-time and use nights and weekends to work at my company. I also was pretty sad at my day job so having the opportunity to focus on what I love was priceless.

Don’t get me wrong, it was hard, and it took many years. But it was worth it.

My morning routine consists of meditation, prayer and writing. This is followed by lots of meetings and conference calls. I check in with my team and look through tasks. Then it’s on to email correspondence, reading up on and watching films, and reviewing arts-related news, events, and content. I also spend the day brainstorming new ideas to grow my companies and make a positive impact.

We partnered with B&H Photo and Canon to create Bushwick Stories — a free five-day documentary filmmaking workshop for young storytellers in Bushwick followed by a screening of the youth-created films at the 11th Annual Bushwick Film Festival last October.

Bushwick Stories seeks to empower local youth with the tools to tell their own stories and encourage them to see the film industry as a viable professional pathway. The hands-on workshop teaches students between the ages of 16-24 the basics of filmmaking, lighting techniques and how to use professional digital video and audio equipment, while introducing them to inspiring film professionals. Students learned how to collaborate to shoot and produce their own short documentary to screen at the Bushwick Film Festival.

This is one of our most impactful initiatives and I am so grateful to have the support and experience of B&H Photo and Canon.

I can’t live without my passionate and super funny team. I love working with them!

When I’m not working, I enjoy taking a hot yoga class, writing, reading, dance and watching movies.

I am always inspired by my mom.

My secret talent is coming up with business ideas, basketball and double dutch.

The best career advice I received is to trust your team.

I love what I do because I’m surrounded by creative, inspiring and innovative people. I’m excited about what I do when I wake up in the morning and when I go to bed at night. It gives me enough freedom and flexibility to enjoy the world and people around me.


Interview by Octavia Goredema 
Octavia Goredema is an award-winning career coach, writer and the founder of Twenty Ten Talent. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or over on Twitter.


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