December 9, 2013 at 1:00 am

First-time entry takes Mitten Movie Project Short Film of Year award

Jonathan Dallas, left, stars as Tariq, Brandon Dallas plays Deshawn and Bryan Dallas is Derrick in Tracey D. Sims short film 'Open City.' (Maddy Schiefer)

“Open City,” filmmaker Tracey D. Sims’ look at youth amidst poverty in Metro Detroit, won the Short Film of the Year award at this year’s Best of Mitten Movie Project.

Mitten Movie, the love child of curator Connie Mangilin, is a monthly independent film festival where the audience chooses the winner. About 200 people turned out at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak Tuesday night to screen the winners of Mitten’s January-November films. Judges included journalists (including The Detroit News), filmmakers and audience members, 13 of each group.

The offerings included “Sometimes in Detroit,” featuring talented blues musicians and Café D’Mongo’s owner Larry Mongo; “Static,” a post-apocalyptic tale; “H00ked,” a mockumentary about addiction to shipping; “Valhalla Blues,” a dramedy about best friends trying to honor another; “Dayplanner of the Dead,” a humorous take on zombies; “The Belefaire House,” about a colorblind maid who has had enough, and more.

Second- and third-place winners are Peter Skorupskas’ “Valhalla Blues” and Shawn Shaman’s “The Flash — Shock of the Lightning,” about a brokenhearted chemist who, with the help of a bad driver and inclement weather, changes his life.

“Open City”’s Sims, who also won for best directing, cinematography and locations, was the only filmmaker competing who used kids as her leads — four of them.

“I love working with children,” says Sims, 33, who worked with a 2-year-old for her 2010 feature film “Annabelle & Bear.” “Their innocence is boundless for inspiration.”

Watching children play in her Hamtramck neighborhood, Sims says, spurred her desire to do “Open City.” “They play outside,” she says, “and they live in pretty strong levels of poverty and are unaffected.”

“Open City” is a beautifully rendered short film about three middle school-aged friends in love with the same girl. It’s also about loss and innocence in the midst of an urban wilderness.

Sims, who co-wrote “Open City” with her brother Robert Sims and produced it with friend Stephanie Holtz, entered the film in the Sundance Film Festival, but it was rejected.

“We sent a cut that wasn’t ready to get it in by deadline, which I’ll never do again,” she says. The finished product premiered at the Ann Arbor Film Festival in March. Entering film festivals, which sometimes have hefty fees, is costly, says Sims. She calls Mangilin’s Mitten Movie Project a great resource for indie filmmakers, in part because entry is free.

Mangilin, a producer who has made several dozen independent and Hollywood films, has screened about 900 short films for viewers since creating her movie project in 2007. She says she strives to work with filmmakers whose work she rejects. “I give handwritten comments to every filmmaker,” she says.

As submission quality increases, Mangilin says, she has become stricter. “I have a stronger pool of shorts to choose from so I have had to raise the bar.”

Mitten Movie Project

7:30 p.m. Jan. 7

Main Art Theatre

118 N Main St, Royal Oak

Tickets: $10 at the door, $8 in advance, cash only; bring gloves, mittens, hats or scarves for donation for $5 off

For advance tickets, contact Connie Mangilin at

2013 Best of Mitten Movie Project winners

Best short film: First place, “Open City”; second place, “Valhalla Blues”; third place, “The Flash — Shock of the Lightning”

Best directing: Tracey D. Sims, “Open City”

Best screenwriting: Adam Skorupskas, “Valhalla Blues”

Best cinematography: Tie: Douglas Akers, “Lifeless,” and Jeremy Brockman, “Open City”

Best art design: “Dayplanner of the Dead”

Best editing: “H00ked”

Best sound: Robert Langley, “Trail (trailer short)”

Best locations: “Open City”

Best actor: Ted Neda, “Valhalla Blues”

Best actress: Lauren Mae Schafer, “Lifeless”