TRAVERSE CITY — With just a week to go until its premiere at the State Theatre, Aaron Dennis was putting the finishing touches on his film, "The People and the Olive."
The documentary, which follows local nonprofit On the Ground's Run Across Palestine to shed light on the daily realities of West Bank olive farmers, will show at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10, at the theater.
It's one of two local films that will premiere at the State in the next few days. The other, a newly restored 1940s film from Traverse City called "We're In the Movies," makes its debut at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8 as part of the History Center of Traverse City's Heritage Days.
"The People and the Olive" is a "message of hope and peace and cross-cultural connections," said Dennis, who created the film with Leelanau County native and journalist Jacob Wheeler. The pair traveled to Palestine in February with local Jewish-American musician Josh Davis and local runners including On the Ground founder Chris Treter to capture the runners on a 129-mile marathon across the West Bank over five days to raise awareness about the struggles of Palestinian fair trade olive farmers.
Olives are the lifeblood of Palestinian farmers, yet under Israeli military occupation the farmers are denied access to nearly 30 percent of their olive trees in the West Bank, according to the film. The film juxtaposes the barriers the farmers face to harvest their land against the barriers the runners faced — from walls to arrests — to run across the war-torn region.
"I hope it inspires people to help this cause and On the Ground and also that it helps foster peace," said Dennis, whose Stone Hut Studios production company works to create "films for a better world."
"Usually when people hear the word, 'Palestine' or 'Palestinian' they don't know what it is. It just means 'conflict.' I hope this opens people's eyes that we're all the same no matter where we are in the world," Dennis said.
A Q&A session with the film team, Run Across Palestine runners and special guest Nasser Abufarha will follow the screening. Abufarha is founder of the Palestine Fair Trade Association, which supported the run. Davis, of Steppin' In It fame, will perform before the show.
"We're In the Movies" was restored over a period of about three years, said project coordinator Dennis Kent, a volunteer with the History Center of Traverse City.
The 16 mm film was created as a fundraiser for the Exchange Club and was shot in January 1940. Back then, the region was recovering from the Great Depression, dial telephones were being installed in homes and the median male income was $956 a year.
The professionally produced film features local scenes and people of the time, such as young businessman, civic leader and future mayor Julius Sleder and school superintendent Glenn Loomis, in a talent show-style "competition."
"I think the audience is going to be most interested in the people who are going to flash across the screen, if they're from the area, whether it's an aunt or uncle or grandpa or grandma," said Kent, who received an $8,000 grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to help restore the film. "Of all the people we've been able to identify in the film, only one is still around. It's a bygone year, an interesting shot of some of the businesses around town, some who are still around.
"Then there's the old cars, the fashions, the women in salons getting their hair done in pin curls, the snow on the street, the Christmas decorations still out. It's really quite a time capsule," Kent said.
The film was researched with the help of seniors at retirement facilities and restored with assistance from students in the Northwestern Michigan College Visual Communications program, who designed materials and enhanced the DVD production with captions, titles and a music bed.
"We wanted as many people as possible to be involved in the film. That was the intent of the original film back in 1940," Kent said.
Tickets for the screening are $5 at the door or at the History Center on Sixth Street. Following the show the center will sell DVDs of the film, which include a booklet about the film and Traverse City in 1940. A bonus track on the DVD includes a short, restored amateur film of the 1939 National Cherry Festival.
Tickets for "The People and the Olive" are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $6 for children and students at Higher Grounds, Oryana and the State Theatre box office or online at StateTheatreTC.org. Proceeds will go toward scholarships for the October Great Lakes Bioneers conference.