Metro Detroit's Monthly Moviemakers Club
The Detroit Windsor International Film Festival, the Ferndale Film Festival, the Detroit Independent Film Festival and the 48 Hour Film Project: Detroit have all debuted since 2008 (the same year the Michigan film tax incentives were initially offered), showcasing some of the best in independent films while emphasizing Michigan's own talent. But before all of these there was (and is) the Mitten Movie Project, which has been around since 2005.
Before the film incentives and before the local film festivals, before even the internationally-recognized Traverse City Film Festival (which launched in July 2005), the Mitten Movie Project had found a home at Royal Oak's Main Art Theatre, and has been showcasing the best in local films every first Tuesday of the month since then.
Mike Madigan – City Producer of the 48 Hour Film Project: Detroit, Operations Manager at M1 Studios, and Director with Five Clover Films – remembers, "It used to be the night when InZer0 screened. The Mitten Movie Project developed from that because InZer0 episodes were short and they had the theater for [that whole two-hour block], so it sort of evolved out of that to fill the time. The idea was to get more content going on. [At the time] there really wasn't a venue for people to show their films. The movement had just really started happening – this was before all the film festivals cropped up; none of those existed at the time."
InZer0 was something of a local phenomenon from 2005-2006 – a science fiction series that ran for 12 episodes, it more or less dominated the local film scene for a solid year. You would be hard-pressed now to find a local filmmaker or industry professional who wasn't somehow involved with that project. In 2007, independent film producer Connie Mangilin took over the Mitten Movie Project from InZer0 creator Jamie Sonderman and has been running it ever since.
"I'm a filmmaker myself and I make my own movies too; I just kind of see a need for something like this on a monthly basis for all the filmmakers to show their work," she says. "The first month [I took over] was November 2007, and the next year the incentives hit. There was already a lot of good stuff out there [from local filmmakers] - there were little pockets of people making movies, and good ones too."
The Mitten Movie Project exists to allow these talented filmmakers a venue through which to showcase their work on a regular basis, instead of just once a year. "With other film festivals it's just once a year; it's limited," Mangilin states. "This is every
month. The people that come to it continually make shorts and get better and better at it and get to know each other [through the Project]."
Mangilin says the MMP has helped build the local filmmakers' community. "[It has created] a community [of people] that can call each other for help ... One of my main visual effects guys I found through one of the shorts. It's like, ‘Hey you need a sound guy? There's one sitting there at that table. You should talk to him.' "
So it's partially a filmmakers' showcase and partially a networking event for people in the local film industry. But it's also a great way for the public to keep up with the output of these local filmmakers too. Mangilin says that her audience is a good mix of filmmakers and their friends (who tend to be the primary audience members at a lot of festivals) as well as good old Jane and John Public who comes out because they love film and love to see what Michigan filmmakers are doing. "It's a really easy way to stay on top of what's going on around here and who's making what," Mangilin says.
The Mitten Movie Project showcases independent films, most of which are produced locally. She imposes no limitations on what is screened except for occasional cases of obscenity: "I will put a warning up if something is really graphic," she says. "Otherwise it's anything goes at the Mitten!"
The films are all shorts and run the full gamut from documentaries to animation to music videos to narrative, and there are also themed nights like Zombie Night in November and a Best-Of showcase in December.
For filmmakers interested in having their work highlighted at the MMP, Magilin says to visit the Facebook page for submission guidelines, "or hand me a DVD or send me a link and I'll watch it. It's that simple." Submission is also free, which is a rarity. Submission does not guarantee screening as Mangilin does uphold a certain quality standard for the MMP ("I want people to come back
," she says quite simply). Another thing that's rare about the MMP is that Mangilin will actually get back to people regarding their submission. "I write them a personal note whether they were accepted or not. If they were rejected, I'll tell them ‘This is why,'" she explains. "I actually take the time to do that."
In 2011 the Mitten Movie Project screened 167 shorts and trailers.
"It gives more people chances to see their stuff on an actual big screen," Mangilin says. "This is a real theater we're going to. People get a rise out of seeing their stuff on the big screen and not a bar [or auditorium]."
Every month the audience votes for an Audience Choice winner, then Mangilin along with her co-producer Jeffrey White invites that winner onto the Mitten Movie Show to show the film on public access and give it even more exposure. The Mitten Movie Show airs on Comcast 18 and WOW 18 on the CMTV Network, a public access channel for 11 cities and that reaches 140,000 households in eastern Oakland County. It airs Wednesday nights at 11pm and Saturdays at midnight. Because the Mitten Movie Project is a monthly event, the Audience Choice winner will see their film aired a total of eight times in the month. "It's a nice perk for the filmmakers," White notes.
But the perks aren't just for the filmmakers. White says that one of the great advantages of the Mitten Movie Project is that, as a film lover
, you aren't forced to choose between multiple films you want to see all screening at the same time as you typically are with an annual film festival. "It's once a month for an hour and a half, the same length as a regular feature film, and it happens 12 times a year so you get to see all of them."
Even the filmmakers prefer this format over the more traditional annual film fest bonanzas. "If you go out of state you never know what kind of crowd you're going to get," Madigan states. "A lot of times filmmakers will use [the MMP] to premiere their films without having to incur the cost of renting [the theater] out themselves." Madigan has screened a few of his films there over the last few years, including the office comedy First Day
"It's a great local showcase in a great location. Royal Oak always brings a good crowd."