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Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010

Firestarter Films Moves Forward

Milwaukee film events draw attention

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Having recently celebrated its first birthday, Firestarter Films is quickly gaining notoriety, and a following, for its bimonthly film festivals. Filmmakers and film lovers flock to the forum to screen independent films of any format or style, be it stop-motion animation, 3-D, documentaries or highlight reels of feature-length narratives. From its inception in November 2008 under founders Phil Koch and Shawn Monaghan, Firestarter has placed an emphasis on networking among local professionals in Milwaukee’s accelerating film industry. Because it isn’t a competition, the festival has the feel of a relaxed open-mic night for cinephiles.

The event has humble origins as a simple gathering of friends wanting to share their work with one another each week. Koch and Monaghan, who recently won Milwaukee’s 48 Hour Film Project 2009, were inspired to make their get-togethers public, so they rented Bay View’s Alchemist Theatre and managed to pull in 50 people for an evening of short film screenings. By the third event, the audience nearly doubled, proving to Koch and Monaghan that Milwaukee is home to more filmmakers than they imagined. Because of the supportive environment of the festival, the exposure it provides for its artists and its ability to connect a director with compatible collaborators, such as a musician to compose a film’s score, Firestarter Films’ events are experiencing phenomenal growth.

Koch and Monaghan show between 20 and 30 short films at each event, allowing time between screenings so attendees can discuss what they just saw. Critique sheets are handed out before the screenings and given directly to the filmmakers later in the evening. Because Firestarter Films doesn’t screen submitted films beforehand, the event can be wildly unpredictable. Artists can arrive the night of the festival with a DVD in hand and have it played—they just need to have the guts to personally introduce their work of staggering genius to the audience.

To accommodate their growing numbers, Koch and Monaghan moved the festival in August to bigger digs at Live Artists Studio in Walker's Point. In November, 175 people attended Firestarters’ one-year anniversary celebration to watch 26 local films. This Friday, Jan. 15, Firestarter Films will be hosting its seventh festival. While the program’s agenda is somewhat of a mystery, Monaghan did challenge fellow filmmakers at the last event to extrapolate on a short film he and Koch made called Brookfield. A parody of the film Cloverfield, the short film begins when an unseen monster rises from Lake Michigan, grabs the signature orange sculpture at the foot of Wisconsin Avenue and heaves it into the side of Borders (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1D5QNEDSFGg).

“The plan is to have everyone moving forward together,” Monaghan explains. “The great thing about Firestarter is that you can utilize it to reach your maximum potential… you just have to be motivated enough to do it.”

Live Artists Studio is located at 228 S. First St. There is a $5 cover for the Jan. 15 event. Networking begins at 6 p.m. and films will be screened at 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.firestarterfilms.com.