Chatting with the Creator of the Upcoming Documentary ‘Brooklyn Is Burning’

Brooklyn’s music scene has been on fire for a while now. Instead of competing against one another for the top spot, artists from this borough come together and lift each other to new heights. That’s what makes this scene more powerful than most others—it’s inclusive, it’s raw, and right now it’s in the midst of a pivotal moment.

A.F. Cortés is a creative in NYC by way of Colombia. He thrives on music discovery and live shows. He’s a mosh pit regular and always equipped with his weapon of choice—his camera. After finding a home in the chaotic and wonderful world of Brooklyn’s music scene, he was hit with the epiphany that there’s a story here.

“For me [live music] is my church, that is where I feel elevated, transported to a new dimension, swimming in a sea of madness and happiness,” he tells BTRtoday. “It is that loss of control and sharing that same energy with other people—nothing compares to that feeling of connecting to a superior being which is music.”

He decided to start documenting the current music scene in Brooklyn and call the project Brooklyn Is Burning. He says it’s an ode not only to the current rise in popularity of the bands within the scene but also a reference to The Clash song “London Is Burning” and represents the style of narrative from the documentary Paris Is Burning.

“It was a call to that narrative style,” he says. “I didn’t want to tell a documentary, like, ‘Oh this was the punk scene in the ‘80s or ‘70s,’ no—this is what is happening right now in Brooklyn.”

’Brooklyn Is Burning’ trailer

Brooklyn Is Burning only started production last fall. At the time, they were still working out the kinks and figuring out technical details. They were able to film several interviews with bands like Surfbort and Dreamcrusher, but we were supposed to get into the bulk of filming. Once the pandemic hit, the process suddenly became unclear. How is Cortés supposed to document the live shows when there aren’t any?

Things could’ve ended there, but Cortés knows the strength and passion of this scene and knows it’ll find a way to thrive. He felt obligated to continue documenting the music scene right now as it evolves during such a pivotal moment in history.

“I’d call it the second or the third act [and] it’s an important part of the story,” Cortés says. “I decided to continue the project right now because I feel that everything is mutating and changing in real-time and that causes me a lot of anxiety since it’s something that I love, something that was my home. I don’t know if it’s for the good or for the bad, but hopefully, when this thing ends and we look back this will just be another obstacle, but I have no idea—the only thing I know is that I really want to continue documenting the story right now and see what’s happening to every single musician and venue and element that is connected to this story.”

Though Brooklyn Is Burning revolves around the narratives from the people within the music scene, Cortés says it’s more of a political film within the world of music.

“It was very interesting to see how many people from different backgrounds were uniting just because we were all heading to those [same] venues,” he says. “So, for me, it’s very important to include the bands that are inclusive to and also identify as non-binary or gay or immigrants or African American, etc.—so that is also a very seminal part of the story.”

The Kickstarter Cortés started for the project went beyond its goal of $30k and included several rewards from participating artists, like merch and even a private live performance. There is also a zine that you can purchase that has words from those within the scene.

Check out Brooklyn Is Burning here and follow them and Cortés on Instagram to get updates and see how you can help make this documentary whole. Also, tune into this week’s episode of The Music Meetup to hear the entire interview with A.F. Cortés and tracks from bands being featured in the documentary.