Traverse City News and Events

How Two TC Filmmakers Captured The Story Of Michigan’s Arthouse Movie Theater Heritage

By Craig Manning | March 23, 2024

Much like Traverse City does now, Marquette once had two single-screen arthouse movie theaters operating downtown. While the theaters themselves no longer exist – at least as active movie houses – their iconic marquees still stand as landmarks of a bygone era. The story of how those two marquees were saved is one fraught with economic booms and busts, the rise and fall of malls and multiplexes, and the ever-shifting tides of the film industry. It’s also the subject of Marqueetown, a new feature-length documentary made by two Traverse City filmmakers – and set to get its world premiere screening next weekend at The Alluvion.

For Joseph Beyer, one of the directors behind Marqueetown, the screening is the realization of a dream that began more than five years ago. A Michigan native who spent years living and working in Los Angeles, Beyer was drawn to Traverse City in the spring of 2018 when he stepped into the executive director job at the Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF). Beyer’s stint with the TCFF was short-lived – he resigned after 21 days – but he decided to stick around, and on a road trip to Marquette that fall, he happened upon the story that would become Marqueetown.

At the time, a local Marquette movie lover named Bernie Rosendahl had just begun a quest to buy, restore, and reopen the Nordic, one of Marquette’s two historic downtown movie houses. The theater had been converted to a Book World bookstore in 1994, with the old marquee coming down as part of the renovation. But in 2017, when Book World announced it would be shuttering all 45 of its stores, Rosendahl hatched a plan to buy the building.

Upon Beyer’s visit, another movie theater marquee caught his eye: that of the old Delft Theatre, which closed in 2012 but reopened in 2017 as the Delft Bistro. While operating now as a restaurant, the Delft Bistro had preserved the theater’s original marquee, and Beyer was so taken with the look of the place that it sent him down an online rabbit hole.

“I started Googling ‘Marquette movie theaters,’ and [Rosendahl’s] campaign popped up,” Beyer recalls. “The first photo I saw of the Nordic was this beautiful black and white photo from 1936, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, that is just the most remarkable art house theater I’ve ever seen.’ And I hadn’t known anything about it before.”

Sitting at the Delft Bistro, right across the street from where the Nordic used to be, Beyer read every word of Rosendahl’s website, held rapt by the story of the theater’s rise and fall. Soon, Beyer was shooting off an email to Rosendahl, offering to help in any way he could.

Rosendahl’s quest to revive the Nordic as a movie theater ultimately failed: His bids to buy the theater fell well below the price Book World was asking, and eventually, the building sold to a different buyer. As it turned out, though, the couple that did buy the building was almost as intrigued by its history as Rosendahl was, and while they were planning to open a craft distillery, they wanted to pay tribute to the Nordic’s movie house past. So it was that Rosendahl, working hand-in-hand with the new owners, built a replica of the original Nordic marquee and restored it to the building’s façade.

Upon his next visit to Marquette, in the fall of 2022, Beyer was so moved to see the Nordic marquee lit up again, he started thinking about how to share the epic tale with the world.

“He was just going to write an article for The Boardman Review,” says Jordan Anderson, who eventually became Beyer’s directorial partner on Marqueetown. “But then he was telling me about [the Nordic], and I think we both realized that this was really a visual story. It was about a theater, and about a quest to save cinema. So, I said to him, ‘Why would you not want this to be a movie?’”

Beyer had never made a film before, and Anderson had only made shorts, but in January of 2023, the two friends started shooting footage that would become Marqueetown. Nine months, countless hours of research, and half a dozen trips to the Upper Peninsula later, they debuted a rough cut of the film at Marquette’s own Fresh Coast Film Festival. Now the pair are ready to screen the film for the first time, for a hometown crowd at Traverse City’s Alluvion.

That premiere screening is scheduled for 7pm on Easter Sunday, March 31. In the weeks to follow, Beyer and Anderson will head out on tour, taking Marqueetown to Michigan arthouse theaters (the Garden Theater in Frankfort, the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor), film festivals (Capital City Film Festival in Lansing, Arizona International Film Festival in Tucson), and other TC venues (Workshop Brewing on April 4, Dennos Museum on April 14). For the pair, the goal is to underline the value that a good movie theater can still bring to a community. (All ticket sale proceeds, Beyer notes, will go directly to the theaters.)

“A good theater, it’s more than just a delivery system for watching movies,” Anderson says. “It’s about connection and community and experience. It’s about how it feels to be in a room full of other people, laughing your head off. Because you don’t laugh the same way when you’re watching a movie alone at home.”

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