Filmocracy now!

Jul 18, 2001 at 12:00 am

While many nonprofit arts organizations blaze across the scene like shooting stars, starting brightly but burning out quickly, the Detroit Filmmakers Coalition has been more like a constant flame securely fixed in Detroit’s artistic firmament. Now in its eighth year, the Coalition has exceeded the expectations of its founding members, continuing to provide unique resources to Detroit’s community of experienced and aspiring filmmakers.

Chris McNamara, a filmmaker on the faculty of the University of Michigan and current president of the DFC, readily admits that “film is often quite accurately perceived as an expensive and inaccessible medium. It would remain in the hands of the well-to-do if not for nonprofit organizations such as the DFC, which makes filmmaking accessible to the community at garage-sale prices.”

The core mission of the DFC is essentially twofold: to provide a basic education in the tools of filmmaking by offering classes and workshops in skills such as directing, producing, cinematography, writing and digital video technology, as well as providing access to equipment at reasonable rates that merely cover the cost of storage and maintenance.

According to Hamtramck resident Chuck Cirgenski, a DFC founding member whose film Stardust can currently be seen on HBO, the DFC is “a really viable organization for networking. It’s a central meeting place for filmmakers of any caliber to gather and where work facilities and mentoring are available.”

The DFC can be said to be the brainchild of Robert Andersen, who is on the faculty of the Center for Creative Studies department of animation and digital media, and whose experimental films have been widely exhibited in the United States and Europe. Back in the early ’90s, Andersen was doing a lot of freelance work for corporations. Many of these companies had acquired film equipment in the ’70s, which had been used throughout the ’80s, but was being phased out as the corporations moved to video production. Andersen noticed a lot of the equipment just languishing in the company vaults. It occurred to him that these companies might allow him to purchase some of the equipment or perhaps would be willing to donate it. Recounting the genesis of the DFC, Andersen remembers he “bought three cameras from AAA of Michigan, and then sold two in order to refurbish the one I wanted.”

Then Andersen heard that the Public Benefit Corporation, which is funded by cable TV revenue, would provide him with seed money to purchase a flatbed editor if he had an organization with at least 20 members and an office in Detroit. He put out a notice to see if he could garner any interest and more than 70 people showed up for the first meeting. Arts facilitator Chris Jaszczak offered use of his performance space at 1515 Broadway, and the DFC was on its way.

While at 1515 Broadway, the DFC sponsored a series of screenings of locally produced works, and soon moved its facilities for a brief stay in a building on Library Street behind Hudson’s. Soon the Motor City Theatre Organ Society, which owns the Redford Theater, allowed the DFC to occupy a row of offices above the theater. Just recently the DFC vacated the Redford in order to occupy a spacious light-filled loftlike space back at 1250 Library overlooking the site where Hudson’s once stood.

This summer the DFC is sponsoring two events, one of which is the ever-popular “Super 8 Saturday.” On July 28, people will be able to rent a Super 8 camera for a nominal fee that covers the cost of film development. Instruction on how to use the camera will be provided, as will about three minutes worth of black-and-white film. Participants will then have about four hours to shoot their film. Screenings for this event are always well-attended, and all films will be shown at 1515 Broadway on August 18, where audience and filmmakers alike will be seeing the films for the first time.

Andersen remembers one year when the all-girl rock band Stun Gun produced a Reservoir Dogs-like holdup film for this event — and another time when, out of about 30 films, roughly half took the People Mover as their subject.

According to McNamara, the films that come out of this event are “all so strong in different ways. The technical acumen is always impressive, because the cameras are incredibly low-tech. There are funny little narratives, experimental dreamlike pieces. They all seem to have something to offer, whether straight narrative or weirded-out experimentation.”

The other event this summer will be a “Drive-In Movie Night” starting at sundown on August 11, presented in conjunction with detroit contemporary at 5141 Rosa Parks Blvd., Detroit (313-898-4ART). Offered as a fundraiser for the DFC, an outer wall of the gallery will make do as a screen, and people will be able to drive their cars onto the weedy vacant lot adjacent to the gallery for an evening of nostalgic fun, viewing animated intermission trailers and vintage sci-fi flicks wifh “Andersenophonic Audio in Your Car” sound transmitted via FM radio waves.

McNamara invites all interested individuals to come check out the new digs on Library Street, introduce themselves and participate in “Super 8 Saturday.” Andersen likes to think of the DFC as “the little nonprofit that could.” The DFC has proved it can, and it keeps on chugging along.

For more info on the Detroit Filmmakers Coalition and “Super 8 Saturday,” call 313-961-9936 or check

Deborah Hochberg writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected]