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Q&A: Connie Mangilin on Making Movies in the Mitten

Movies and Michigan are becoming close, personal friends.

And there are few places that celebrate that relationship more than the Mitten Movie Project, a monthly film festival featuring independent filmmakers. Organizer (and filmmaker in her own right) Connie Mangilin has been the curator since 2007.

Yes, more and more Hollywood-style blockbusters are interested in Detroit and Michigan as a whole, mostly because of the impressive film incentives we offer. But there are many up-and-coming film enthusiasts who call this state home, and they are proud to show their work with Mangilin's help at the Main Art movie theatre in Royal Oak.

The show runs every first Tuesday of the month, giving Mangilin a few minutes to chat before the March 2 screening…

: What films are shown as part of the Mitten Movie Project?
A: They're all over the place. There are films from 30 seconds to a half hour. Trailers, shorts, music videos, documentaries, student films, animations. There's a cool claymation coming up in March by Tom Gurisko and John Mollon. It's their fourth or fifth “Snippy” in the festival. They've really got a following now, and everyone gets excited when they finish a new one. They do painstaking work. It's a good example of the nitty-gritty nature of independent filmmaking. Another alum is Dan Casey, who did “The Butcher's Daughter,” and who was recently accepted into the Sundance Institute [best known for its famous Sundance Film Festival in Utah].

Q: Who can submit their work?

A: Any age, any gender, any background, anyone. The majority are from Michigan. All we ask is that you be independent (not studio backed or distributed). We invite students to submit their work as well. In August, we're planning a future filmmakers event for residents of Michigan age 18 or under. We've shown some high-school work before, and it stands up with the rest of our submissions. There are gems out there and some kids making amazing films.

Q: What is the best part for the filmmakers?
A: By far the best part is audience feedback. You don't get that when you just show it to your friends or your family. There's nothing better for a filmmaker to hear an audience of 100 or 150 laugh at one of the jokes that you've written or clap. On the converse side, it's important to hear silence when you thought something would be funny or not get the reaction you were expecting. It really helps them hone their craft when they show it at the Mitten. Filmmakers can use the MMP as a jumping off board – do a first run here, get feedback and comments, tweak it and then send it out to other festivals. It's a step in their way to film festival glory.

Q: What should potential filmmakers know about independent filmmaking?
A: What people need to know is it is within their grasp. To take part in it, you just need to go out and do it and make your movie. Some people stumble on that very thought about just going out and doing it yourself. You don't need a ton of money, crew or actors either. People need to start making the movies themselves and getting their feet wet.

Q: Why make movies in Detroit?
A: I wouldn't want to make movies anywhere else. Detroit is gorgeous – from its architecture to its mansions to the very graffiti on its walls. I find people in this area to be extremely creative. When you live in a city that's so devastated but so far away from the coasts (Hollywood and New York), we're forced to be innovative and creative way beyond our means. It's this kind of thinking that inspires people. And it's why I love this city.

Mangilin will take the Mitten Movie Project to Detroit for the first ever Mitten Movie Project Feature Series – a double header featuring two independent feature length documentaries -- to be held at the Burton Theatre (3420 Cass Avenue, Detroit) 7:30 p.m. May 7.

Mangilin is also hosting via the Mitten Movie Project a panel discussion about “the strategies, pitfalls and politics” of film festivals at 2 p.m. March 7 at the Burton Theatre. The event, which is part of the Detroit Independent Film Festival, will highlight how to run a festival, how to avoid festival rejection and what to do when you're there to make the most of the experience. Check out more information here.

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