July 29, 2008

Theater Upgrades to Add to Festival Fun

By Lindsay Vanhulle, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

Jul. 29--TRAVERSE CITY -- The big screen at the State Theatre downtown stayed dark to moviegoers all weekend.

But in the lobby, volunteers hustled to stock the venue's concessions counter. Onstage, a group of contractors were busy installing a new screen while illuminated by a single bright lamp. Back in the seats, a technician tuned the theater's sound output to ensure it was properly working.

It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare for the Traverse City Film Festival, but organizers said the long days and hard work will be worth it when its fourth season kicks off today.

When they arrive, patrons will discover not only the new screen -- 10 feet wider than the old one -- but a new red curtain and an upgraded sound system.

"It'll enhance the experience," festival Executive Director Deb Lake said.

With just about 24 hours until the festival kicked off, the contractors knew Monday they faced a tight clock. Some have been here since last week, and toiled until late at night.

All the details -- from installing black "masking" curtains that appear to adjust the height or width of the screen, to elevating the speakers so the sound is better distributed -- are meant to better present the movies the way the filmmakers made them, contractor Thom Darga said.

The screen, for instance, will adjust to display movies filmed in different formats.

"It's all tuned to the types of cinemas," Darga said. "Each year, we're adding a little bit more fun stuff."

An anonymous donor provided funding for the work, Lake said. She didn't know the exact price tag of the project, but it's expected to cost a minimum of "several thousand dollars."

The State Theatre is the festival's main venue, but the event's impact is felt from all of its screens, moviegoers say.

"The atmosphere is pretty contagious, and really is enjoyable by itself," said Edward Rom, of Bingham Township in Leelanau County. "They should do it in the winter instead of the summer. I think this would still be well-attended."

Regardless of when it's held, the festival has proven to be a huge draw for area businesses in the last three years.

It's been good to the Park Place Hotel, in part because of its downtown location, general manager Amy Parker said.

The landmark hotel is nearly full beginning Thursday and stretching through the weekend, but Parker said she expects the remaining rooms to be booked before then.

"We're only a block and a half away," she said. "The film festival, it certainly does enhance our revenue."

American Spoon Foods employees sell gelato at the Open Space during the free movies shown in the evenings, in addition to the business across the street from the theater.

Not only does the event boost sales, owner Kim Schmitz said, but it also lifts spirits.

"It's a lot of fun," she said. "It definitely brings more people downtown."


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