Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

October 14, 2012

Celebrating movies — and a theater

Frankfort's Garden Theater is home to 4th annual film festival

FRANKFORT — Thirteen films, digital projection and more art deco revival is in store for movie lovers and fans of old theaters at the 4th Annual Frankfort Film Festival.

The four-day festival opens Thursday, Oct. 18, at the restored Garden Theater and runs through Sunday evening, Oct. 21. It offers a mix of drama, comedy, thriller, a Japanese documentary and six other foreign films from Italy, France, Russia, Brazil and Canada. All have won awards at leading festivals in the United States and Europe.

The opening night film is "Robot & Frank," an American comedy and "buddy" film about a curmudgeon ex-jewel thief named Frank and his caretaker robot, a gift from his adult children.

It closes Sunday night with "Monsieur Lazhar," a 2011 Canadian French-language drama about an Algerian teacher in a Montreal grade school hired to replace a popular teacher who committed suicide in her classroom.

Rick Schmitt, one of The Garden's four co-owners, said he expects 2,000 people to walk through the theater doors over the four days. Advance tickets and sponsorships are up from last year and the Harbor Lights Inn, Sleeping Bear Inn and Crystal Mountain reported advance weekend bookings through package deals.

"There is really an emotional tie to The Garden because literally hundreds have been involved in the restoration," Schmitt said. Other co-owners are his wife, Jennie, and Blake and Marci Brooks. They purchased the 1923 theater in 2008, spent a year renovating and reopened in 2009.

Movies aren't the only attraction at the Frankfort Film Festival. The restored Garden is a "show" in itself.

Behind-the-scene renovations since the last festival include $75,000 state-of-the-art digital projection and a new "surround sound" system bought by a group of local supporters, along with restoration of a large 40-foot-long mural on the theater's interior back wall. Much of the work has been done with the help of volunteers.

John Vinkemulder, a retired Grand Rapids Merrill Lynch broker who has construction experience, has spent thousands of hours volunteering, Schmitt said. Vinkemulder has helped with sound and projection systems and even upgraded an old popcorn maker he found a reasonable price. He's also one of The Garden's 13 "two-percent investors," who bought shares in the theater.

He didn't invest to make money, though.

"We basically wanted to save the theater and keep it going as a popular venue," he said. "It's done wonders for our local hospitality industry. I love film and what it does for the town."

Downtown Frankfort has more nightlife and downtown traffic now, he said.

"It's been wonderful for our local hospitality industry," he said. "So many people have come to town to have a dinner and a movie."

Artists Peggy Hawley, Mary Armstrong and Bonnie Warren are a trio of Frankfort women who spearheaded the four-year volunteer effort to restore, repair and repaint six large water-damaged fiberboard ceiling panels, more than 30 wall panels and "countless little pieces" discovered once the theater was cleaned up after its purchase.

This year, they also finished restoring a 40-foot mural that stretches along the theater's interior back wall and as high as the projection booth.

About 40 volunteers worked on the panels, including area artist Ron Gianola, boat-builder Andrea Frost and two men who had done work in the old Fox Theatre in Detroit. They had come to see a movie and left offering to paint the battered panels high above the stage.

Why did Hawley volunteer?

"Well, why not?" she replied. "I think everyone was so happy about having the theater open again. It just seemed like everyone wanted to be part of it."

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