TRAVERSE CITY – Let the lines and shuttle buses begin. Bring on the 150 films and 200 screenings.
The 9th Annual Traverse City Film Festival opened Tuesday night at the State Theatre and City Opera House for hundreds of film fans willing to pay $50 to see two opening night screenings of Woody Allen’s new movie, “Blue Jasmine.” Both venues sold out early.
Special guest of the evening was actor Michael Stuhlbarg, a cast member whose film credits include “Lincoln,” “Seven Psychopaths,” “Hugo” and "Men in Black.” He introduced the movie and also stayed for a question-and-answer session afterward.
“He’s spent the last two hours walking around Traverse City and can’t believe he’s not in a time tunnel or on a Hollywood set,” festival founder Michael Moore told the boisterous audience in his opening remarks at the State.
Moore also treated the audience to a 1913 short-short called “On to Washington,” before “Blue Jasmine" began. The 80-second film focused on 14 suffragettes who walked from Newark, N.J., to the nation’s capital to call attention to their effort to win voting rights for U.S. women.
The other big opening-day event was in front of the State Theatre, where Moore and Rotary Charities executive director Marsha Smith burned the theater’s mortgage in a metal pail as 300-400 Rotary members looked on. The burning symbolizes that the Film Festival officially owns the State Theatre.
“Thank you for your faith and trust in us,” Moore told the Rotarians as the short outdoors ceremony began. “I hope you all know the role you played.”
It took two lighters and hundreds of laughs to get the job done. When Moore’s metal lighter failed to spark, someone offered him another. Within seconds the document ignited over the pail.
Rotary Charities and Moore also unveiled a plaque that will become part of a historical marker at the State in the spring. It read, “This building donated by Rotary Charities of Traverse City to the Traverse City Film Festival."
“It’s really fun to be here,” said Beth Karczewski, a Rotarian for 20 years and a Rotary Charities board member. “We’re very proud of what Rotary Charities and the Traverse City Film Festival have been able to accomplish together.”
Rotary Charities has been deeply involved in downtown’s revitalization since it was formed in the mid-1970s after oil and gas were discovered on Rotary-owned camp property south of Traverse City. The service club began using a portion of its royalties to make grants to community nonprofits and projects, including a remodeling of the State. The theater eventually came into Rotary Charities' hands in 2003. Two years later, Moore, local commercial photographer John Robert Williams and author Doug Stanton launched the first film festival as an annual event to help “save one of America's few indigenous art forms — the cinema.”
The festival offers six other venues besides the State and City Opera House: the new Bijou in the newly remodeled Con Foster Museum building at Clinch Park, Lars Hockstad Auditorium, the Old Town Playhouse, Milliken Auditorium and the Dutmers Theater at the Dennos Museum Center, as well as the Open Space, which will show six free movies this week on the 65-foot inflatable screen at dusk every day of the festival through closing night on Aug. 4.
The opening night offering at the Open Space was “Across the Universe,” a movie based on music from The Beatles.
Katie Clark and Kathryn Adams, both 2010 Traverse City West graduates, arrived at the Open Space early to lay down blankets and come back later to meet former classmates. They haven’t missed a film festival since they were about 12 and came with family.
For them, the festival is as much about hanging out and catching up with old friends as it is about watching “really good movies.” Both also buy tickets to festival movies.
Clark, who has been away this summer, will see "Much Ado About Nothing” and “Dragon” with her mother. Adams is thinking about going to the midnight showing of “The Shining,” a psychological horror film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Jack Nicholson. “Oh, not me," Clark said, laughing.
The day ended with the Opening Night Party on Front Street between Union and Park streets.