DETROIT, Mich. — A documentary about the Boblo Island Amusement Park and its ferries will be shown at movie theaters in Grand Rapids and Holland. Boblo Boats: A Detroit Ferry Tale will be shown at Celebration Cinema GR North and Sperry’s Moviehouse from September 23-29.
The documentary looks at the history of Boblo Island Amusement Park, which opened in 1898. The park featured the steamboats SS Columbia and Ste. Claire, which brought visitors to the island. They are also the two oldest surviving passenger steamboats in the United States.
The film will focus on civil rights pioneer Sarah Elizabeth Ray. In 1945, Ray was denied entry on the SS Columbia due to her race. She then sought legal counsel from the NAACP, which was eventually processed by the United States Supreme Court, and led to integration on the island.
“I went to Boblo my whole life, two or three times a year, and I never knew that I owed the ability to go to some woman who had fought this fight for me a long time ago,” said Detroit’s Chief Historian Jamon Jordan. “This other history used to be present, but at some point, it’s been forgotten. It was not passed down in the schools, it wasn’t passed down in other forms of media. It is beginning to be talked about now, because there has been a whole generation of scholars and historians who’ve been writing about this and who have focused on this history.”
Boblo Island Amusement Park eventually closed on September 30, 1993. The film also looks at the present, with preservationists trying to save the Ste. Claire from being scrapped.
The film is narrated by Martha Reeves, from the point of view of the SS Columbia. Reeves was the lead singer of the group Martha and the Vandellas. The group’s first studio album, Come and Get These Memories, was released in 1963. Their other albums include 1965’s Heat Wave, 1965’s Dance Party, and 1970’s Natural Resources. Their final album, Black Magic, was released in 1972. Reeves’ first solo album, Martha Reeves, was released in 1974. Her other albums include 1975’s Rainbow, 1980’s Gotta Keep Moving, and 2004’s Home To You. From 2005-2009, Reeves was a council woman for Detroit.
The documentary was directed by Detroit filmmaker Aaron Schillinger, and is his directorial debut. “Sadly, I didn’t have the opportunity to go to Boblo when the park was operational,” said Schillinger. “I never imagined it would take seven years to complete this film, but it was well worth it. Now people are sending me their Boblo pictures and memorabilia. Many have thanked me for making the film, even before seeing it.”
Steve Bannatyne was a producer for the film. His Lucky Hat Entertainment banner is also distributing the documentary. Bannatyne previously produced and distributed the 2019 documentary The Russian Five. “I’ve worked on over 40 films in my career but this one is extra special to me,” said Bannatyne. “My grandfather was captain of SS Columbia and I named my company Lucky Hat after an old bucket cap he used to wear. Plus, we have the voice of the great Martha Reeves in our film! I’m just thrilled to bring this wonderfully unique documentary to audiences across Michigan and beyond. I know there are boat nerds, history buffs and doc lovers everywhere, and we’ll do our best to accommodate them all. Ideally in a dark theater and on a big screen.”
Boblo Boats: A Detroit Ferry Tale will be shown at Celebration Cinema GR North and Sperry’s Moviehouse from September 23-29. The film’s trailer can be watched below: