Meet The Founder of The Bush, A New Film Series Showcasing Queer Women
Launched this past summer, The Bush is a new film series focused on showcasing films about queer women, trans women and non-binary people. Started by filmmaker Kaina Dominguez, the screenings take place on the third Thursday of every month in Brooklyn, New York. Dominguez, who spent her childhood in Venezuela, says she grew up watching straight films and thus didn’t have many lesbian role models. This made it hard for her to find any media that represented the stories, problems or fears of queer folks.
In reaction to this, Dominguez decided to launch her own film screening series earlier this year that would allow the queer community to feel seen and supported. At each meet-up, Dominguez screens one feature film and two short films, while also devoting time to helping open the doors to film directors so they can showcase their own queer films and talk more about their work as a means to connect them directly with the queer community.
Milk spoke to the founder about her mission behind The Bush Film Series and how she hopes to grow it in the future.
Tell us more about you. How long have you lived in New York? What kind of work do you do as a filmmaker?
I was born and raised in Venezuela. In 2011, I decided to move to New York and I have lived here ever since. In 2014, I opened a media production company called Imaginarium Lab, though most of my work was based in California, I continued living in Brooklyn.
I have no plans on moving in the near future. New York, one of the most inspirational cities I know, made me grow as an artist and I always felt the need to return the favor. Now that I have created The Bush Film Series I feel like I’m finally giving something back.
At Imaginarium Lab we focus on marketing videos, advertising, product placement and corporate videos. I’m am both the Creative and On-Set Director of every piece we produce in house. From concept to delivery, I am involved in all aspects of the filmmaking process and I’m always trying to bring fresh energy and innovative ideas to each project. Even though I do not constantly work in the film industry, working in advertising and TV has been incredibly rewarding, for example this year I won an Emmy award for a marketing video I directed and produced for Hispanic teachers in California called ‘Gracias Maestros,’ sponsored by the California Lottery.
I am equally as passionate about watching films as I am about creating my own projects. I have side projects where I explore other creative ways to express myself through short films and music videos. I constantly attend film series and festivals in different cities. For example, I am a regular at the Sundance Film Festival, I get to go every year with a press credential, this way I am able to keep up to date with films and at the same time soak up new information, logistics, and structure of these festivals, which has been very helpful for The Bush.
How did your upbringing in Venezuela inform your early perception of the film industry and the queer community?
I grew up in Venezuela, a very Catholic country, where you couldn’t be openly gay. I grew up watching heteronormative films with no LGBTQ+ role models. It was very hard to find anything that represented our stories, our problems, our fears, or even just seeing two women in love. I remember spending long periods of time looking for something at the video rental store, not knowing what I was looking for, but knowing that whatever it was, it was missing. I was not yet aware that I was a lesbian and that I was gravitating towards being queer. I remember watching heavy dramas about lesbians with no happy endings like Monster and Boys Don’t Cry. One day I found the movie Thirteen, I rented it and I remember waiting for the two characters to kiss and when they finally did, it hit me that this could be me.
What inspired you to launch The Bush?
What mostly inspired me is the lack of spaces for queer and trans women as well as non-binary people in New York City. This is why my friends and myself are opening the doors of our homes, to create new safe spaces, for the community and to create projects that didn’t exist before.
Most LGBTQ+ events are focused on men. Though New York is an extremely queer friendly city, the majority of bars, events and spaces available are for gay men. Such is the case that I can count on my right hand the number of spaces where my friends and I can go and feel comfortable. We have a few parties to go to, such as The Woods on Wednesdays and PAT once a month. Many of the options for LGBTQ+ women on a night out involve bars or partying at bars, but there is a solid need for different spaces to entertain ourselves. I feel as though art is the best way to do it. This is why ELEVEN Brooklyn, The Bush, and Ladies Life Draw exist. We connect people through music, movies, and drawings.
What’s the mission behind this project? Why did you specifically feel it was important to create a space to share queer films?
I showcase films with queer and trans women as well as films with non-binary characters. I want my community to feel represented on the big screen and to know that there are people out there telling our stories. The Bush does not just have one singular mission. Actually, after every screening I realize there is so much more to do and to communicate.
Of course, one of my main goals is to educate. Intersectionality is a very important aspect of the series, particularly as it pertains to my community seeing the entire array of LGBTQ+ stories. This is especially important for women of color and woman of all kinds of sociopolitical backgrounds to feel represented. The Bush has a very diverse community and I want everyone to feel represented and welcome. That’s also why my events are free; I want everyone to have access to these films and the community whether they have the means or not.
Another important mission behind The Bush Film Series is to create a safe space for us. Women like me (and my friends from LLD and ELEVEN) are building a space for our community that does not yet exist. Offering our homes allows for a safe space, but also it means it’s not about specific sponsorships or brands, because it’s truly about the community. It’s a very grassroots movement. I want it to be a homey environment because that is where people can feel their most comfortable and to be their truest selves.
As a filmmaker I have another important mission at The Bush, and it is to help queer films get exposure. Short films are the hardest to find because there is not one solid platform that showcases LGBTQ+ shorts. It takes me days to find the right ones to showcase. For every 10 LGBTQ+ films I find, there may be just 1 or 2 queer and/or trans women or non-binary films whereas the rest is all about men. Outside of this space being open for the filmmaker community it also functions as a place where relationships can form amongst audience members and filmmakers alike. This way the creators and viewers will get to know and support one another, creating an equally as encouraging space for creativity and community. The fact that I invite filmmakers to come in person to present their work is very important, it gives them the opportunity to interact with the community that they are representing.
When did you start it? How has the reception been since you first started?
Our first screening at The Bush Films was on May 31st of this year. Initially, it was a small private project where I screened movies at my house with my friends every 3 weeks. On the 4th screening, August 2nd, I decided to open it to the public to see what happened. We had 40 people show up at my house. Last month was our 6th screening and I had 70 people on my patio, I am amazed to see that we jumped from 10 attendees to 40 and then to 70 in such a short period of time.
My original idea was to keep The Bush as a Summer Film Series, but the constant encouragement from the community inspired me to make The Bush into a Winter Series as well. I realized after the success we had this summer that I had to move forward with this series, create something more long term and make more widely available to the LBTQ+ community. The response has been massive, and I think the world at large could benefit from projects similar to this. I’m hoping the success of The Bush could inspire other historically marginalized communities to come together and create safe spaces for their people.
During the summer, my patio is the perfect location; however, as winter is coming up soon, I need to find a location that will continue to offer a safe, homey, and DIY feel. I am currently in the process of finding this type of indoor location. I am doing my best to avoid bars or theaters, because I do not think those would continue to embody the warm, cozy and welcoming environment.
What’s the format the screenings?
In the summer, The Bush Film Series took place every three weeks on Thursday night on my patio. Right now, I’m searching for our indoor winter location. Once winter hits, the screenings will happen once a month.
I curate and give room to documentaries and narratives films, no matter the genre. Our format differs between nights because some may have two short films and one feature film and one night may be fully dedicated to short films. Every night I make sure to have at least one of the directors presenting their work. It is important to me to open the doors to film directors to showcase their queer films and to talk about themselves as well as the films they’re showing.
It is important to mention that because we do not have a cover charge, the space gets crowded very quickly queer women and non-binary people. Understandably, they are all incredibly excited to see themselves represented on a big screen and be surrounded by their community.
What are some of your favorite films that you’ve screen so far? What are they about and what makes them special?
This is a hard question. I am the one selecting the films at The Bush, so I screen all of my favorite films. I have the pleasure of screening what I love and what inspired me with 100 percent of freedom, so I could say that all of the films I screen are my favorite films. But if I had to choose few, I would mention Desert Hearts, The Watermelon Woman, Taste of Love, A Prickly Subject and Bombshell.
Also, while there has only been a total of six screenings, I have screened a total of 23 films so far (including both shorts and feature films).
What it makes them special is the variety between them. For me is crucial to have films that represent other communities inside the queer community: religion, gender, race, culture, feminism, gay rights, women rights, etc. LGBTQ+ rights are constantly the topics of the films I screen.
Why do you think it’s especially important to screen short films and give the filmmakers a platform to speak about their work?
As a filmmaker and an assiduous film festival audience, I know the chances for people to see short films are very low. As a queer curator, I know the LBTQ+ feature films are a little bit “easier” to find because they normally get more exposure than short films because often feature films are at the forefront of distribution. That is why, when I came up with the idea of The Bush I always wanted to open the doors to the creators to not only screen their work but to have an opportunity to talk about their queer films amongst their community.
It is so important for an audience to get to know the people behind the camera, to have the freedom to ask any questions or make any critiques they feel appropriate, because it is their opportunity to do so in front of the creators. From my short experience as curator at The Bush, I can say that the creators are fascinated with the fact they finally are in front of a 100 percent queer audience and getting the feedback from community they are representing has been equally as phenomenal.
Now, supporters of The Bush will get to know about these filmmakers as well as their future projects, which would help them immensely during their crowdfunding campaigns for their new projects. It’s important that the community to which they are serving also readily stands by and supports the work they produce. The Bush will be there for them when they need it. For me merging both communities was like a dream, and it is working very well.
How do you hope to grow the series in the future?
For me it’s important to keep The Bush as a monthly event. The community needs constant spaces like this. Maybe one day we will to grow enough to become a film festival, but for now I’m super happy maintaining The Bush as a film series. I’m planning to open a non-profit because we need donations in order to buy speakers, a better projector, rent for an indoor space in winter, etc. Also, this has become a full-time job, I’m 100 percent dedicated to The Bush right now because of the high demand. I have a couple of collaborators helping me out but, unfortunately, it’s no longer enough due to the rapid growth of The Bush. I’m spending all of my time on this project because I love it and I have hopes that it’s going to grow.
To learn more about The Bush Film Series you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram. If you would like us to consider to screen your film please email us at: [email protected]. If you want to consider helping our film series to keep running in winter, please donate to our GoFundMe.
Stay tuned to Milk for more film happenings.