“Marqueetown” is a documentary about one man’s quest to restore the historic marquee of the single-screen Nordic Theater in Marquette. An Art Deco structure designed by architect Michael Meredith Hare, the Nordic opened on Easter in 1936 and closed in 1994. Bernie Rosendahl, a child of nearby Skandia, never let go of his dream to reopen it.

Directors Jordan Anderson and Joseph Beyer show how the rise and fall of the Nordic mirrors economic trends of the last 50 years, especially the rise of the “tin box” multiplex theater, which fundamentally transformed small-town main streets. They also trace how changes in technology have shifted the way Americans consume media over the last century. 

The directors tell the story through interviews with Upper Peninsula theater owners and employees as well as news broadcasts and newspaper clippings. A series of interspersed reenactments differentiate themselves from archival footage through self-aware irony, though those that tell Marquette’s cinema history through mock newsreels or vaudeville-style acts are more effective than the more contemporary reenactments.

Though Rosendahl’s campaign to restore the Nordic’s marquee unfolded before the pandemic, his longing to restore positive childhood memories of people gathering in a narrow auditorium is even more meaningful in a post-COVID world.

Rosendahl prevails, but his victory isn’t a simple one. He has to form strategic partnerships and compromise on his vision to see it through. The solution he settles on makes it clear that his dream isn’t driven by simple nostalgia for the good old days but a desire to restore Americans’ sense of wonder toward the movies, harkening back to a time when films were deemed worthy of announcing in buzzing electric lights.

The question other small cities, like Lansing, can take away from the film is: Can these cities sustain that kind of wonder in the face of brute economic realities? Is it worth it? And to whom?


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