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Movies in the basement? The idea suggests a suburban rec room with a home theatre featuring a colossal plasma screen. But the first annual Mississauga Independent Film Festival is introducing something else - suburban filmmakers who are making their own work (literally) underground.

The festival, which kicks off on Thursday, will showcase homespun features, shorts and documentaries - 35 in total, including a dozen premieres - made by independent filmmakers. "We're trying to be the career makers, trying to find the new blood, the people who are making films in their basements and are dragging money from anywhere to make it happen," says Matt Campagna, a 28-year-old filmmaker who co-founded the festival with his younger brother, Jeff, 25. "We want to propel filmmakers [who]could become viable professionals."

After their own film was rejected by the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, the Campagna brothers were curious to see what other films are going under the radar. Since October, they have hosted a sporadic screening series at a local bar to test out the waters. "Local filmmakers started coming out of the woodwork to amalgamate forces," Jeff says. "We want to provide encouragement for them to keep going, keep the dream alive - so they don't become investment bankers or dentists."

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The festival also coincides with the local launch of CinéStarz, a new independent theatre chain from Gatineau, Que., that shares their indie spirit. The four-cinema theatre - which opens tonight - occupies the former Central Parkway Cinema, which closed in 2006. CinéStarz hopes to provide an alternative to the pricey suburban filmgoing experience by hosting screenings for $2.99. (Aside from the festival, it will show first-run films eight to 12 weeks old.)

And the films suggest that each basement has a story. A short entitled Labour of Love: The Passion of Tony Karol sees the custom guitar maker in his Mississauga basement crafting slabs of wood into homespun acoustic treasures that go for $3,500 - one belongs to Bruce Cockburn. The Escape Clause follows Scott Hammell, a 21-year-old amateur escape artist who lives in the basement of his parents' Waterloo home. Hammell is gearing up to jump from a plane in a straitjacket next spring in California (his survival will depend on whether he latches onto the parachute thrown out of the plane with him).

Other shorts play on basement-friendly hobbies, most notably video games. The Supermarios follows characters from the famed Nintendo game in Sopranos-inspired scenarios - Mario is an elusive gangster who sees a shrink for his anxiety, Princess Daisy has a short temper and Luigi is a mushroom and star-power addict who keeps insisting, "I can quit any time."

Acuity, a feature shot around Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph, follows a cocky office worker who becomes spiritual after an unexpected brush with death. Directed by Michael Mercy, it was chosen to make its premiere here for its no-budget factor. " Acuity is exactly what MIFF is about - someone with nothing making something," Jeff says.

After Acuity screens on the closing night, three awards will be handed out to best feature, short and documentary at the West 50 Pourhouse restaurant. (To get the new scene buzzing, several post-screening after-parties will be held at local chain restaurants such as Alice Fazooli's.) At the ceremony, the winning filmmakers will each score $500 and be handed a 35-mm, gold-painted film reel as their trophy.

The Campagna brothers are both basement dwellers themselves - Jeff still lives in his parents' home in Mississauga, though Matt has moved to a basement condo in Liberty Village - and they take pride in staying down to earth. "So many people lose their magic when they go from basement to glass office building," Matt says. "If I can look out a window and see something, I'm not imagining anything."

The festival begins Thursday (7 p.m.) and runs until July 13. $8. CinéStarz, 377 Burnhamthorpe Rd. E. http://www.miff.ca, 905-290-2401.

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