This week, Laura and Sara are joined by Brenda Webb, Executive Director of Chicago Filmmakers. Chicago Filmmakers is a non-profit media arts organization that fosters the creation, appreciation and understanding of film and video as media for artistic and personal expression. In 2018, Chicago Filmmakers moved from its second floor home in Andersonville to 5720 N. Ridge Avenue, a historic 1920’s firehouse they fully renovated with classrooms, a screening room, office space, and projection facilities. This week’s episode was recorded on-location at the firehouse!
“Artists are drivers of economic development, yet they don’t always reap the benefits of that economic activity.”
– Brenda Webb
Listen to Episode 43 with Brenda Webb!
Here are some references from Episode 43 that you may want to check out:
- Brenda is originally from Indianapolis. After getting a degree in psychology from the Indiana University, she took a film class that inspired her and ultimately pursued it in film school here in Chicago at Columbia College.
- While in school, she was hired by a post-production editing house. She went into film editing, and got involved with the Chicago Filmmakers because one of her roommates was the founder and they were looking for an extra programmer.
- Chicago Filmmakers was started in 1973 during an artist-run space movement in Chicago. Chicago Filmmakers’ roots were in the art gallery scene and their former name was Chicago Film Group at N.A.M.E. Gallery. They started out as an experimental film screening space on Saturday evenings.
- After moving from N.A.M.E. Gallery to Belmont, Chicago Filmmakers rented a large 200-seat theatre on Belmont, and while they only screened films on the weekends, needed to find a way to supplement their income on the nights the theatre lay dormant. They rented to theatre companies like Lookingglass Theatre, and these type of partnerships with theatres continued when the organization moved to Wicker Park, in what is the current Chopin Theatre, as well. After Wicker Park, Chicago Filmmakers moved to their former Andersonville location. Many of their moves had to do with renting in buildings in which they couldn’t meet the fire code violations due to outdated stipulations on nitrate-based film, a highly flammable type of film that was no longer regularly used.
- Chicago Filmmakers screens documentaries, experimental films, shorts, and films from Chicago filmmakers. They also give out $100,000 in grants every year to 8 or 9 artists to create new projects. Some of the grantees have gone on to create web series optioned by both HBO and Netflix. Learn about Chicago Filmmakers grant program here.
- In 2013, Filmmakers purchased a vacant firehouse in Edgewater from the City of Chicago. Brenda had her eye on a firehouse or a church due to the open space needed to set up a film screening theatre. She had to create the grant proposal in two days. In October of 2013, Filmmakers was awarded the building for $36,000. They closed on the building in February 2016, and after closing, immediately began construction. They finally moved into the space at the end of 2017.
- People can view the space from 10:30AM-6:30PM Monday thru Friday. They also rent the space to other commercial filmmakers, but the best way to see the space is to come for a screenings. View Chicago Filmmakers’ upcoming screenings here.
- If there’s one thing that Brenda would pass on to another organization of a similar kind who is just trying to start, do all of the necessary preparations, thinking, research and planning before anything is undertaken.
- Brenda is the founder of the LGBTQ Reeling International Film Festival that was created in 1981. The festival was started to showcase work by niche artists that were not available in mainstream cinema. The first few years of the festival it was mainly experimental and European feature films.
- Brenda, as far as LGBTQ filmmakers from Chicago go, recommends Ky Dickens, a documentary filmmaker, along with Sharon Zurek, among many others like Lisa Cordileone, who’s film Freelancers Anonymous, screened at the festival this past year.
- Chicago Filmmakers’ classes range from almost every aspect of digital film making for both kids and adults, whether it’s screenwriting, to directing, to lighting and sound editing, they provide the whole gamut for those that would like to learn. Chicago Filmmakers have had the summer camp since 2005. View Youth class schedule here and Adult class schedule here.
- Brenda’s favorite movie is called Serene Velocity, a 1970s American experimental short film directed by Ernie Gehr.
- Chicago Filmmakers shows 60mm film and digital cinema using DCP, which is a state of the art way of showing films. Chicago Filmmakers was gifted their projection system by projectionist James Bond, who had has start at Chicago Filmmakers!
- If Brenda could work at any Andersonville business for a day she would work at Women and Children First (5233 N Clark), because she’s been going forever and it embraces the local community.
“We are trying to provide an affordable opportunity to learn filmmaking and democratize the media…Filmmaking is accessible to all.”
– Brenda Webb