Destination Film: The 'Hundreds of Beavers' Great Lakes Roadshow

Images courtesy of Elk Rapids Cinema

The Elk Rapids cinema will always hold a special place in my heart for being so integral to my moviegoing experiences in my infancy, seeing films there as young as five years old and being the very first theater the late owner Joe Yuchasz allowed yours truly into a projection booth to watch the trailers before a 35mm screening of The Nightmare Before Christmas.  In the years since Michael Moore donated $5K to finish the restoration of the cinema, it also became not only an integral part of Elk Rapids as a community but a partner theater to Traverse City’s sadly retired summer film festivals.  

When Yuchasz passed for a brief moment in time the theater’s future was up in the air with the terrible possibility of it being sold or even leveled.  Thankfully however, the theater was able to continue operations and under new management have began taking unique risks with their programming, starting with the theater’s very first ‘brew & view’ event with the Great Lakes Roadshow for Lake Michigan Monster filmmaker Mike Cheslik’s surreal silent comedy Hundreds of Beavers.

Ostensibly a madcap beer-and-pizza movie indescribable to people without merely showing a trailer, the film slated for wider theatrical release followed by streaming and eventual disc releases, the film is currently touring with the cast and crew in select venues while other theaters are getting limited weekend screenings before it moves onto the next venue.  

Sponsored by Short’s Brewery and The Foundry, a woodfire pizzeria in Elk Rapids adjacent to the theater, patrons who bought tickets were treated to half-off appetizers, $1 Local Lights beers and in the theater itself you were entitled two beers of your choice from Short’s and Starcut Ciders.  Further still the new manager took patrons on a tour of the theater and it became the first time I got a good look behind the screen where apparently it’s previous owner built up quite a record collection.  Finally when it came time for the movie, patrons with T-shirts for the film showed up and the wacky live-action cartoon for adults unspooled in easily the strangest film to ever play in the history of the Elk Rapids Cinema.

While the option to do a second viewing of the film was possible, it was a very long day though after stopping at The Foundry for dinner the bartender remarked the film brought in a whole slew of unexpected business they hadn’t experienced for awhile.  Even at Short’s Brewery, close to a mile away from the theater, there were posters and signs for the Great Lakes Roadshow.  It was more than just a weird movie tour, it was a distinctly Michigan based communal event more than a few locals could relate to.  

In the screening itself, mostly consisting of the theater’s elderly clientele interspersed with some younger viewers in the area, everyone was on board with the rampant yet technically playful zaniness unfolding.  An already lovely theater venue that just got a much needed goofball countercultural artistic boost with the weirdest local jointly sponsored special event in quite some time, the Great Lakes Roadshow rounded out the screening of Hundreds of Beavers as a swell way to spend a winter weekend in the upper peninsula.  The film is a hoot but the local regional event built around it was indeed something very special.

--Andrew Kotwicki