Mitten Movie projects local talent

In the metro Detroit area, a group of individuals are trying to simultaneously boost the economy and make the community more aware of local happenings.

The Mitten Movie Project shows short movies made by independent filmmakers at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak on the first Tuesday of each month.

“The original intention of the project was to showcase independent movies and filmmaking,” curator Connie Mangilin said.

 Mangilin said the project started in late 2005; however she took it over in 2007. Each month, the project receives about eight to 12 submissions from filmmakers all over Michigan, as well as from other states, including California, Iowa, New York and Colorado.

Once she receives the submissions, Mangilin decides which films will make the final cut. She said the average crowd at The Mitten Movie Project each month is about 150 people. At the end of the night, audience members vote for their favorite, and the Audience Choice Award winner is featured on the Mitten Movie Show on public access television in Oakland County.

“We really try to give young filmmakers a place to show their movies and let them get real bonafide feedback from an audience of people they don’t necessarily know,” Mangilin said.

Sarah Babila, a filmmaker who screened the trailer for her film, “It Came from Detroit,” at the July event, is one of those filmmakers seeking feedback at the Mitten Movie Project.

“It’s also good as a filmmaker to know that there are other people in the area making movies too,” Babioa said. “It can feel like we’re all secluded on our own islands sometimes so it’s nice to meet other people working in the area.”

Babila’s film focuses on the rock scene in Detroit in the late 90s and early 2000s.

“People in the suburbs are sometimes unaware of all of the awesome music being made in Detroit,” Babila said. “The great thing that we wanted to show is that there is always some new and exciting culture emerging.”

Jeffrey White, one of the organizers of The Mitten Movie Project, agrees the project is important to helping young filmmakers with their careers.

“We give new filmmakers an opportunity to start perfecting their craft by receiving feedback and criticism,” White said. “It’s also a great opportunity for them to potentially be featured on our show, which means their work is broadcast to 140,000 households.”

 Other young filmmakers featured at the July event included brothers Drew and Brett Pierce, who screened the trailer for their feature, “Dead Heads,” which they describe as a “zombie-buddy road trip film.”

The brothers grew up in the Royal Oak area; they now live in California. Prior to moving to California, they screened films at the Main Art and will return in October to premiere “Dead Heads,” which was filmed entirely in Michigan.

 Diane Frkan, a 2001 Oakland University graduate, got involved with the project a number of years ago when working on “InZerO,” a science fiction series that aired an episode each month over the course of a year at The Mitten Movie Project. Frkan started as a set director for the first five episodes, but then advanced to art director for the remaining episodes.

“The Mitten Movie Project started before ‘InZerO’ did, but it really kicked into high gear when we started airing episodes there,” Frkan said. “People had to come back each month to see what happened next.”

Another goal of the event is to get filmmakers who are filming in Michigan and taking advantage of the film tax incentive to use Michigan crews.

 “We need to build the film industry in Detroit,” White said. “We need to get local talent to work on projects. We have very broad talent, but it isn’t as deep as it could be.”

 Frkan said she sees the importance of classroom education and workshops regarding film production, however she thinks Michigan students interested in film should focus on getting real experience instead.

“The No Worker Left Behind program is helping displaced workers get retrained to work on film sets,” Frkan said. “A lot of that education is free. People can also look on Craig’s List or to find cast or crew positions, whether they’re paid or not, for films in the area. Film experience is an absolute necessity for people wanting to break into this industry.”

 Aspiring filmmakers can submit their short films for consideration to The Mitten Movie Project’s Myspace address at or at Mitten Movie Project, 715 E. Milwaukee, Detroit, MI 48202. Filmmakers can also submit their films on Mitten screening nights. Whether or not projects are chosen for the monthly event, Mangilin still returns feedback to the filmmakers. Submissions are due two weeks before film night.

The Mitten Movie Show airs on Comcast channel 52 and Wide Open West on Wednesdays at 11 p.m. and Saturdays at midnight in Oakland County.

Tickets for the Tuesday night showcase are $8 presale and $10 at the door. The next Mitten Movie night will take place 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 4.

A pre-screening reception at 6:30 p.m. in the Main Art lobby will offer a chance to talk with filmmakers, press and film professionals.

After the show, moviegoers are encouraged to interact with filmmakers in a Q&A session, time permitting. Immediately following the close, attendees can head to an afterglow party featured in various downtown Royal Oak locations.

 For more information on the Mitten Movie Project, ticket sales and afterglow locations visit Lineups are released two weeks prior to the date.

The Main Art Theatre is located at 118 N. Main St. in Royal Oak. Call them directly at (248) 263-2111.