Traverse City Record-Eagle

Our Town

August 30, 2010

Last Movie in the Park ushers out summer

FIFE LAKE — As the streetlights glowed, a loop of the theme song from "Up" serenaded attendees to their spots.

Saturday evening featured Fife Lake's fourth and final Movie in the Park, a bittersweet goodbye to summer on a perfect summer night. About 30 people settled into lawn chairs, adjusted sweaters and munched popcorn as twilight faded around Veterans Memorial Park.

High-tech digital video and sound equipment threw images onto a low-tech movie screen: the side of a brick building bordering the triangular wedge of a park. Before the show began, projectionist Marcus McDuffie cleaned blue paint splatters off the square of bricks painted into a white screen. He snaked extension cords into a nearby restaurant for power.

The park's slightly sloping lawn provided an amphitheater effect. Deepening darkness boosted the illusion of a movie theater, nearby traffic and streetlights notwithstanding.

"You can sit anywhere and get a great view," said Debbie VerDuin, a high school sophomore from Grand Rapids attending the event with her mom and older sister.

The free movies were organized by the Fife Lake Chamber of Commerce, which has hosted the event for the past four years. Previous movies this season included "Where the Wild Things Are," "The Spy Next Door" and "The Blind Side."

Local businesses sponsored the movies and equipment, and donated the popcorn and pop. Money raised by refreshment sales benefited the Fife Lake Food Pantry.

The movie-night setup is win-win for the community: Enjoy a free movie with friends while businesses benefit.

"The reason the chamber did it was to bring more people to town — not necessarily that people will go to businesses before and after movies but to get exposure to the town," said Merrie Nixon, of the Fife Lake Chamber of Commerce.

Movie in the Park continues a tradition of civic cinema in Fife Lake stretching back to the mid-20th century.

Fel Brunett, curator of the Fife Lake Historical Museum and a lifelong community resident, relished the "free shows," as they were known in the mid-1940s. The movies were a much-anticipated community event where attendees enjoyed westerns and other light Hollywood fare.

"There would be a good crowd in town for Saturday night; of course, that was before television," he said. "When you went, you got to go to the ice cream place and get an ice cream — a big happening for us poor farm kids."

Bleachers were available for movies shown at the same location, which at the time was privately owned land. Brunett recalls that a disagreement between landowners and the village prompted the movies to move around to sites including the Fife Lake beach and near the hardware store.

As the Fife Lake Chamber of Commerce has worked in recent years to revive the tradition, a consistent theme of family-friendly fare remains.

"It's a nice atmosphere, some people bring their kids and everybody's always mindful of others," Nixon said. "As the night goes on, we might lose a couple who go home and go to bed."

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