Chicago Filmmakers to move its home base

One of the city's hubs for independent film is poised to move. Chicago Filmmakers is in the process of buying an unoccupied firehouse from the city located in Edgewater at 5720 N. Ridge Ave. — roughly a block north of Hollywood (Avenue).

“For a long time, we've been thinking about owning a place,” said executive director Brenda Webb. “We also knew as a not-for-profit that we didn't have the financial ability to go out and buy some perfect building.” Chicago Filmmakers currently leases space in the Andersonville neighborhood, where it has been located for the last 17 years. A drawback of the current site is that it is not wheelchair accessible.

A longtime resource for indie filmmakers, Chicago Filmmakers provides access to equipment, classes and grants. It is also an art house cinema, specializing in documentaries and non-commercial films, frequently with directors on-hand for post-show Q&As.

As for the site: “We thought it would be great to get a city building either donated or for a very low cost and then put our resources into renovating it,” said Webb.

The firehouse has been unoccupied for the better part of a decade and it shows. Webb has been eyeballing the building since 2008, when she first took a tour. “The paint is peeling. There's no heat. The basement is full of water,” she said.

The city put a call out for proposals over the summer. “It was a daunting task,” according to Webb. “We had to put down earnest money, which was 10 percent of the appraised value, so $36,000. And we had to have architectural plans.” Which also cost money.

But it was cash well spent. The city selected Chicago Filmmakers, and the plan is set to go to the city council this spring for approval. "Our strategy was not to ask the building for $1, even though other non-profit organizations have done that in the past," Webb said. "I thought, I'm just going to consider that earnest money gone -- meaning, the Chicago Filmmakers proposal has the organization paying $36,000 for the building. An additional $600,000 will be spent on renovations, Webb said, adding, “Some of that money we will have to raise, but it's not a pie-in-the-sky figure.”

Plans call for the new screening room to occupy the old fire truck bay and be roughly the size of the current screening room, between 75 and 99 seats. Webb estimates it will take eight months to a year to complete the rehab.

Chicago Filmmakers produces annual events including Reeling (which spotlights gay and lesbian film) and the Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival. On Friday the cinema presents its 5th Annual Seen & Heard Music Video Showcase.
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