Chicago Filmmakers to reopen in old Edgewater firehouse


Mackenzie Crosson

Former Edgewater firehouse will soon house Chicago Filmmakers with increased community engagement programs and activities.

By Alexa Rixon

Chicago Filmmakers, which offers independent film screenings and classes, will relocate to a former Edgewater firehouse this October—the culmination of a four-year process in which the group submitted an arts proposal to the city and was awarded ownership of the space.

Renovating the firehouse, 5714 N. Ridge Ave., required the group to raise about $1 million, which was financed with $400,000 in donations and a five-year mortgage to cover the rest, according to Brenda Webb, executive director of Chicago Filmmakers, adding that the group paid the city only $36,000 for the space.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th Ward) championed the idea of making the space available to a cultural or community group.

“It was important to try and find a way for it to be a place that would benefit the entire community—not just a place for someone to buy a home or business that would be for themselves, but for the community [to] bring people together,” Osterman said.

Webb said the move will expand the organization as a home for both civic and cultural engagement and screening films the community wants to see.

“There’s an expectation and an obligation on the part of the organization to serve the public,” she said.

The facility is scheduled to host the Chicago International REEL Shorts Film Fest in November, which is open to filmmakers worldwide, according to the Film Fest website. Other programs will be scheduled once settled in.

Programs are still in the planning stage, Webb said, but she hopes the facility will be collaborating with Senn High School two blocks away and Loyola University Chicago.

The group held a day camp this summer and has both youth and adult programs. One youth program started Sept. 24 and includes a six-week course in making animation with plastic LEGO blocks.

Webb said she is also collaborating with other community film curators to host programming in the new facility. Expanding the program will reflect multiple perspectives, interests and tastes to more accurately represent communities, she said.

Floyd Webb—no relation to Brenda Webb—curator of Black Worlds Cinema at Studio Movie Grill Chatham, said he is working with Chicago Filmmakers to produce a series that will appeal to the African immigrant community in nearby Uptown. He is meeting community organizations to come up with programming for both children and adults.

“Instead of imposing a program, I want to get something cooperative,” Floyd Webb said. “It’s really about engaging the youth in the community, too. To give them a bit of a media literacy in order to forge a new work for our future.”

Renovating the building has proved challenging with occasional delays, Brenda Webb said, including waiting for the city to install three-phase electricity to the neighborhood, which provides more consistent power but would have been too costly for the group to install on its own.

In addition, the renovated building has a ground floor that can be easily converted from screening room to a meeting space allowing for multi-purpose use and community activities, Brenda Webb said.

Osterman said he is pleased to see the project’s completion.

“The Chicago Filmmakers will be a wonderful entity to bring people together for film, to produce films, to make films, [and] to watch films so it worked out very well,” he said.