By ZACH JAY
Journal Ishpeming Bureau
NEGAUNEE - This Saturday, to kick off Negaunee's Pioneer Days, the Vista Theater will do something it hasn't done in more than 30 years - show a movie.
Pictured is the Vista Theatre in Negaunee. The theatre will open starting today, and for the first time in over 30 years, will start showing movies. The theatre will kick off with a 7 p.m. showing of “Casablanca.” (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
The Peninsula Arts Appreciation Council will put its brand-new digital projector and top-notch surround-sound system to use at the Vista for the first time with a 7 p.m. showing of the Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart classic "Casablanca."
"I'm excited about this," said Al Keefer, executive director of the Vista. "Historically, the theater was a vaudeville/movie theater. And when we got historical status in the theater, our goal has always been to continue doing the community theater aspects of it, but we always wanted to get the film back into it. So it's been a long project in making..."
Thanks to a $70,000 grant from the Cliffs/Eagle Mine Marquette County Community Fund and additional financial support from community organizations and individual donors, PAAC was able to purchase and install the projector and surround-sound speakers in time to join in Negaunee's week-long Independence Day festivities.
Keefer said PAAC chose "Casablanca," as well as the other movies to be shown at 7 p.m. each night of the week through Friday, with a lot of input from the local community. Members of PAAC's board of directors asked around, the Vista solicited suggestions on its Facebook page and staff even put out feelers during their community theater productions to find out what people wanted to see.
"We were very surprised that a lot of the same movies kept coming up over and over again, and they basically were the big classic movies that everybody knows and loves," Keefer said. "I mean it's just good, quality movies, is what people wanted to see. And then we went out to see if they were available and we found 'em and we got 'em ... I was very happy."
The rest of the week the Vista will show "The Wizard of Oz," "The Goonies," "North by Northwest," "Singin' in the Rain," the original "King Kong" and "Zombieland" Sunday through Friday, respectively.
But a classic, throwback film selection isn't the only aspect of Vista's return to a movie theater role that's unique - tickets will be $5 and all the concessions will be under $2.
"It's a different experience when you go to an old movie theater," Keefer said. "There's something magical about old theaters. But ... you can bring your family and ... you can go get popcorn and pop and concessions and feel like you're not spending $50, $60 for an evening and then you get to go see a really good quality movie."
Once Pioneer Days is over, Keefer said for the remainder of the summer and into the fall the theater will show strange, offbeat, cult-classic-type films on Friday nights, classic films like "Harvey" and "Singin' in the Rain" Saturday nights and family films - "E.T." or "The Princess Bride," for example - in both a matinee and an evening showing on Sundays.
PAAC also has specials planned, including an "Anatomy of a Murder" weekend, a local short horror film festival in October and even hoping to get involved with promoting independent filmmakers in the area.
"We've got some big plans," Keefer said. "And then as we go on we'll adjust and see what seems to work and what doesn't, but we have that flexibility."
In an era when a lot of old theaters and independent movie houses are being shuttered due to the expensive transition to digital, Keefer said using digital technology to take the Vista in the other direction is exceptional.
"For us to be able to start up because of this digital (technology) is kind of a unique thing, because a lot of these old theaters are disappearing," he said. "It's really special now to have an old theater that was meant to show film to be opening up again."
For more information about the Vista's movies and showtimes, visit www.vistatheater.org/movies.
Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.