Bob Spruill, a production supervisor with Outdoor Movies, holds onto cables while guiding the inflatable movie screen as the cables are adjusted. The 65-foot by 33-foot screen, weighing about 2,000 pounds, was inflated Monday evening at the Open Space for the Traverse City Film Festival


TRAVERSE CITY "" The city's Open Space was beginning to look like the National Cherry Festival all over again with its panel trucks, orange cones and measuring tape marking off spots on the lawn, as Bob Deutsch's Outdoor Movies crew got ready to install a giant inflatable movie screen in time for the Traverse City Film Festival.

The 75-foot by 52-foot screen "" the second-largest in Deutsch's arsenal "" was to be laid out Monday on the grass like a tent, strung to its frame with bungee-like cords and anchored by several tons of water and large aluminum stakes. Once in place, it would be inflated using powerful air blowers.

"With a lake that can get as angry as this one, you just don't use tent stakes," said Deutsch, owner of the Washington, D.C.-based company that will run the projection system for this year's free outdoor movies at the Open Space along West Grand Traverse Bay.

The festival, which officially begins today, kicked off over the weekend with a Friends of the Film Festival potluck party Saturday and a founders party Sunday for festival sponsors. That party featured a sneak preview of "The Valet," one of the 10 most popular films at this year's festival.

Attendance at the inaugural potluck exceeded expectations, said special events manager Allison Beers. Presided over by festival founder Michael Moore and featuring music, games and an array of homemade dishes from classic casseroles to elegant hors d'oeuvres, the event attracted hundreds of mostly local donors, Beers said.

"All the tables were filled and I had seats for 700," she said.

In anticipation of the throngs expected to descend on the city this week, the festival's 750 to 850 volunteers picked up their festival credentials and gray "crew" T-shirts Friday and Saturday, said volunteer manager Anne McEnany. First-time venue managers were scheduled to attend orientations Monday, while other managers and their assistants were to receive training in festival merchandise and concessions. A volunteers-only screening of one of this year's festival films "" one of a handful of volunteer perks, along with the T-shirt and an Aug. 6 beach party "" was scheduled for later in the evening.

At the festival box office, manager Bryn Lynch and her crew were preparing Monday for the onslaught of out-of-towners expected to stand in line today.

"We didn't mail out tickets this year," said Lynch, citing a shorter sales period. "Tomorrow is going to be absolutely crazy because we're going to have all those people coming to pick up their tickets."

As of Monday morning, the festival had racked up $333,000 in ticket sales to film lovers from as far away as Chicago, Colorado and California, she said. Still, there are plenty of tickets available for the festival's 103 screenings, only about a quarter of which have sold out.

Deborah Brown, general manager of Holiday Inn West Bay, said many of the people who have booked rooms at the hotel this week arranged their vacations to coincide with the festival.

"Without a doubt we are getting business from the Film Festival," she said. "Business has been very good for us for the month of July and to end the month with the Film Festival is very good for business."

Only a few people have taken advantage of Crystal Mountain Resort's Film Festival package, which features a festival "survival kit," a snack lunch to go, an official festival souvenir and a movie guide and schedule, said public relations and events manager Brian Lawson. But he said the resort will continue to post information about the festival at its activities center.

While the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau hasn't received many inquiries about the festival, all 100 copies of the festival schedule had disappeared by Monday, said media relations director Mike Norton.

"I'm guessing people who are interested in the festival already have their ways of finding out what's playing," he said, adding that film-goers are likely turning to the festival Web site and other sources for information.

Whether film-goers stay in area hotels or drive in from surrounding communities, he said most Traverse City service providers are working to promote the festival, which runs through Sunday.

"Even if it isn't a tourism driver, it's an enrichment while people are here," he said.

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