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Lights! Camera! Cleveland! 

Are local filmmakers finally ready for their close-up?

At an advance screening of The Avengers at the Valley View Cinemark in late April, the first of many cheers from the packed audience came about 45 minutes into the movie. That's when the Terminal Tower and a section of Euclid Avenue showed up onscreen, subbing for Stuttgart, Germany, during one of the blockbuster's big set pieces.

The Avengers is the biggest movie ever shot in Cleveland (it's also currently the third-highest-grossing movie ever made). But a few other high-profile films were also made in the area over the past couple years, including the 2011 indie hit Take Shelter — which was filmed in Elyria, Grafton, LaGrange, and Oberlin, and produced by Chagrin Falls' Tyler Davidson ­— and Alex Cross, which opens next month and is best known as the movie Lost star Matthew Fox was shooting in Cleveland when he allegedly punched a female party-bus driver.

But there's a whole other movie scene happening in Northeast Ohio, burgeoning without the benefit of gazillion-dollar budgets, tabloid-magnet stars, or disguising Cleveland as some European capital. A handful of these local filmmakers will be showcased next week at a special event at the Capitol Theater previewing the upcoming anthology film Cleveland, I Love You.

The film — which gathers 11 short vignettes shot in Cleveland, written by and starring (mostly) Clevelanders, and directed by Clevelanders — is scheduled for a theatrical release either later this year or sometime in 2013. (The film's producers are still lining up distribution, which they hope will lead to screenings at some of the major film festivals on the planet.) The movie's trailer will premiere at the event, which will also include screenings of some of the other short films made by the various directors, many of whom will be at the event to talk about their work.

"I had been looking for a way to unite and showcase some Cleveland filmmakers," says Eric Swinderman, the film's co-producer, as well as the writer and director of a few of the shorts. "With The Avengers and Alex Cross filming here, there was a perfect storm brewing where Cleveland had movie fever."

Cleveland, I Love You was shot in late 2011 and early 2012 at a number of locations around town, including the Lakewood Public Library, Slyman's restaurant downtown, and even a Drug Mart in Highland Heights. The shorts — which run anywhere from six to 20 minutes — all deal with the theme of love, though they don't always head in the direction you'd think (a dead soldier and a domestic dispute figure into two of the narratives).

Swinderman and Mark Pengryn, the movie's other producer, are also the co-founders of CINEMA Cleveland, a group that helps local filmmakers fund projects. Cleveland, I Love You stemmed from the same independent-minded roots.

"We wanted to create a project where we could take people we respect in the area and get them some recognition and national distribution," says Swinderman. "We reached out to people who were doing this for the right reasons — not because they wanted to be famous, but people who are making meaningful films that we felt would be in line with the kind of films we wanted to put out."

It's not easy, says Amy Tankersley Swinderman, Eric's wife and the director of "Love of Country," one of Cleveland, I Love You's most moving chapters. "There are a lot of people in the community who don't feel that film should be something you do as a career or for profit," she says. "They feel like it should be a hobby. But we're very serious about it. We're trying to make it a viable industry here."

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More by Michael Gallucci

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