Harold Kranick, 14, of Traverse City mimes Charlie Chaplin to entertain crowds waiting in line outside the State Theatre Tuesday on the opening night of the Traverse City Film Festival. The movie 'Once' was shown at the State Theatre and the City Opera House.


TRAVERSE CITY "" Fans who packed the State Theatre Tuesday for the opening film of the Traverse City Film Festival got an unexpected bonus "" the news that the long-shuttered theater would reopen year-round beginning Nov. 17.

Film festival founder Michael Moore's announcement was greeted with whoops and hollers from the audience, who began queuing up more than an hour before the 7 p.m. showing of "Once," which screened simultaneously at the City Opera House down the street.

At the State, festival volunteers sold popcorn and water along a line that stretched to the end of the block and around the corner of Front and Park streets to the Boardman River.

"They have water and pop and everything else inside, but this is cuter," Paul Christ said, pointing to the concessions tray that hung around his neck.

Under temperatures that hovered around 90 degrees "" about 10 degrees cooler than last year "" the kilt-clad Grand Traverse Pipes and Drums opened the third annual festival at an afternoon ceremony in front of the theatre on Front Street.

"I feel like we're in one of those 'Star Wars' episodes where everything on the planet is the same (yet) it's not," quipped Moore, referring to the Republican lawmakers joining him and other festival officials and luminaries on stage.

Standing under the marquee that spelled out her name in giant red letters, award-winning actress and filmmaker Christine Lahti accepted the festival's Michigan Filmmaker Award from Janet Lockwood, director of the Michigan Film Office. In presenting the award, Lockwood noted that Michigan is becoming "more and more of a hotbed" for filmmakers and encouraged Lahti "" a Birmingham native and part-time northern Michigan resident "" to shoot her own movie in the state.

Rohit Nahat stood on the shady side of the street to catch a glimpse of industry insiders like "Borat" director Larry Charles, who attended the ceremony in a suit, hat and orange Crocs.

Nahat, 30, was in town from Louisville, Ky., where he recently produced and directed his first feature film. He said he and college friend Gennie Marvel, of Portsmouth, N.H., planned to attend Tuesday's opening-night party, where he hoped to network with established filmmakers. The pair wanted to see Thursday's showing of the Louisville-produced film "Grace is Gone," but that film sold out, he said.

"We're going to try to use the stand-by line," he added.

At a ticketed reception at Federico's Design Jewelers, guests sipped local wine and champagne and nibbled pesto-stuffed cherry tomatoes, feta and watermelon, and asparagus wrapped in prosciutto as a duo played jazz music.

It was one of two parties scheduled for opening day, including the main event at the Wade-Trim parking lot on Park Street, which was transformed into a summer garden for the night.

"We're bringing in a ton of plants, a ton of trees and bushes, even lights and a fountain," said special events manager Allison Beers. "It'll look like you're not in the Wade-Trim parking lot, that's for sure."

Beers said several hundred guests paid $50 each to dance, hobnob and dine on upscale fare by area restaurants and wineries.

"There's a little taste of everything," she said, "from seafood Creole to Moomer's ice cream."

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