Freep Film Festival to Open with Showing of Boblo Island Documentary

The opening event, which features a VIP party and panel, takes place at the Redford Theatre
freep film festival - boblo island
A documentary on Boblo Island is the focus of Freep Film Festival’s opening night. // Photograph courtesy of Freep Film Festival

Freep Film Festival will kick off its 2021 events on Sept. 22 with a screening of Boblo Boats: A Detroit Ferry Tale. The documentary explores the history of the island — the once-popular local spot that was home to a carousel, a dance pavilion, an amusement park, and more in its prime — and the attempts to preserve its two steamships, the Columbia and Ste. Claire.

The steamships carried passengers to the Boblo Island Amusement Park, which operated from 1898 to 1993. The film, narrated by Motown icon and Hour Detroit July cover star Martha Reeves, follows a New York-based nonprofit that’s resurrecting the Columbia into a traveling museum. It also looks at an eclectic group, made up of a doctor, psychic, and amusement park fanatic, that’s working on the Ste. Claire.

“There is something magical about generations of Detroiters carrying around memories of an amusement park that closed down almost 30 years ago,” says Aaron Schillinger, director of Boblo Boats. “I wanted to pay tribute to those memories while simultaneously peeling back the layers of nostalgia to see what stories or characters might be hiding underneath.”

Boblo Boats also digs into the darker side of the island’s history. The amusement park and its steamships discriminated against African Americans, and the film tells the story of Sarah Elizabeth Ray, a Black woman from Detroit who was kicked off the Columbia in 1943 and took her segregation case to the NAACP. Her case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor in 1948.

The film will be shown at the historic Redford Theatre. Along with the film screening, which begins at 7.30 p.m., the opening night of the festival will include a pre-film VIP party and post-film panel discussion.

Tickets start at $20 for the screening and are now available for purchase online. VIP reception tickets are $60 and include early entry, reserved VIP seating, and food and drink tickets. Those with Freep Film Festival passes — which range from $175 to $450 — also include entry to the opening night event. Tickets will not be available at the door.

The 2021 festival takes place from Sept. 22-26. It will feature more than 35 screenings — both in-person and virtual — as well as parties and filmmaking events.

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