By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS, firstname.lastname@example.org
TRAVERSE CITY — Jim Cox sat at the piano in an empty City Opera House auditorium and repeatedly sounded a note.
Cox, a registered piano technician from Suttons Bay, volunteered to tune the piano and one at Milliken Auditorium for the Traverse City Film Festival.
The eighth annual festival opens today and features 160 screenings in a half-dozen venues around Traverse City. Festival staff and volunteers kicked into high gear Monday to prepare for the event.
"Hundreds of thousands of people will hear these pianos, so I want to be very careful," said Cox, whose tunings will be heard in live performances before many of the screenings. "I'll go through each piano twice."
Federico's Design Jewelers is among several downtown businesses preparing to welcome film festival visitors to town. The jewelers' window display is a tribute to film festival guest Susan Sarandon and the "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," in which the actress appears. The cult movie favorite will screen Friday at midnight at the Old Town Playhouse.
"I love Susan Sarandon and I like the movie," said Sales Associate Edward Galindo, whose display includes a movie slate, two pairs of giant red "Rocky" lips and the words, "Hi Susan."
Brilliant Books owner Peter Makin and his staff readied for in-store and City Opera House sales displays of books relating to this year's movies and their themes. Makin said the bookstore brings in about 30,000 books for the festival, and this year also will host signings with film festival guests like Wim Wenders, the German director of "Buena Vista Social Club" and "Wings of Desire."
"It enhances the whole experience for the movie-goers," said Makin, who handpicks the books. "We always get super excited about this because it's a test of us as booksellers."
Film Festival founder and filmmaker Michael Moore was expected to greet hundreds of volunteers at a special Monday evening screening at Lars Hockstad Auditorium, said festival Communications Director Nancy Baker. The annual screening is both a pep rally and an advance thank you to those who help operate the nearly all-volunteer festival.
"It takes about 1,000 people every year to run the festival," Baker said. "Our volunteer count is almost exactly the same as it was last year but every year there are always a few shifts we still need people for."
Volunteer Dennis Gavin spent his third day selling film festival merchandise in front of anchor venue the State Theatre, where people more often stopped for information.
"They're asking a lot of questions about the festival and where they can get tickets," said Gavin, of Traverse City, who also will volunteer at Central Grade School's Lars Hockstad Auditorium and Kids Fest lawn during the festival. "They're not buying much (merchandise). I think people are watching their money more."
Chicago residents Beth Wallace and Ron Gostek stopped to ask for directions to the film festival box office. The couple arrived in Traverse City on Sunday and planned to leave Wednesday. They hoped to score tickets for opening night events and Wednesday morning's film panel discussion with Sarandon.
"We're visiting friends but we chose this time because of the film festival," said Wallace, an environmental lawyer who is attending the festival for the first time.
Weather forecasts call for a "beautiful" evening with some high clouds for tonight's Opening Night Party on Front Street, said David Lawrence, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gaylord. Sarandon is expected to attend both the party and a screening of the Opening Night Film "Searching for Sugar Man" at the State Theatre.
Thursday afternoon and evening could see rain, with showers and thunderstorms moving into the area Saturday evening into night.
"That's too bad, because I was planning to take my kids to see 'Wall-E' at the Open Space," Lawrence said.