Screens with:

The Family We Chose

Sat Feb 25, 2023 – 2:30 pm | Visit Beloit
Tue Feb 28, 2023 – 7:30 pm | Downtown Beloit Association

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Boblo Boats: A Detroit Ferry Tale

Directed by Aaron Schillinger
Documentary Feature
United States | 79 min | 2021

For over 85 years, steamship Ste. Claire transported generations of Detroiters to Boblo Island, an amusement park nestled in the waters between the US and Canada.

When the vessel comes under threat of ruin, a doctor, psychic and amusement park fanatic unite to save their beloved steamship from the scrapyard.

Interweaving local lore and mythology, “Boblo Boats” explores the whitewashed history of amusement parks and one crew’s crusade to bring back the memories.


Winner of the People’s Choice Award
Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM), 2021

The Best Feature Documentary Award
Indy Film Fest, 2022

The Cercle d’or for Best Feature Documentary Award
Sherbrooke World Film Festival, 2022

The Grand Prix Documentary Award
Rising Sun International Film Festival, 2022

The Silver Award for Best Feature Documentary
Tokyo Film Awards, 2022

The Dr. Sydney K. Shapiro Humanitarian Award
Phoenix Film Festival, 2022

The Best Editing of a Documentary Award
Madrid International Film Festival, 2022

The Excellence in Editing Award
Docs Without Borders Film Festival, 2022

The Best Editing Award
Brussels World Film Festival, 2022


“Truly a rare moment in Cinema… This film is a marvel”
Mélikah Abdelmoumen & Marc Béland, CBC Radio Canada

“An Exquisite Gem. Tenderness, wonder, & dignity…
a beautiful film about beautiful people”
Richard Propes, The Independent Critic

“Anyone who watches Dear Audrey will undoubtedly conclude
that Hayes is a masterful filmmaker”
Charlie Smith, The Georgia Straight

“Touching… luminous… truly magnificent”
Caroline Levesque, CBC Radio Canada

“Dear Audrey, a riveting documentary…
that stands as a powerful paean to passion and perseverance”
Evelyn C White, The Halifax Examiner

“…so many amazing lessons, stories, emotions with pain
and celebration intertwined”
Darren Wiesner, Hollywood North Magazine

“It’s impossible to watch this documentary, (a People’s Choice Award winner), without being overwhelmed by its sweetness and generosity”
Silvia Galipeau, La Press

“…an at once ethereal reflection on the enduring power of love,
and unblinking revelation of life’s steel-cold realities”
Chris Cook, Gorilla Radio

“The central force of Dear Audrey is the eternal, almost implacable force of love that binds people together through the most difficult times”
Dorothy Woodend, The Tyee

“Dear Audrey celebrates the very best the human heart has to offer, with such compassion, artistry and grace”
Terre Nash, Oscar-winning director

“A Stunning Love Story You Won’t Soon Forget!”
Indy Film Fest

“This love story will bring you joy, hope, tears and humility…”
Dr. Jen Hammersmark, Mind Your Madness

“…a beautiful homage to Audrey, to the couple’s
love and their family”
Nantali Indongo, CBC Radio

“Beautiful, touching … ‘Dear Audrey’ is a testament to
what Audrey was and what she remains forever”
Rob Wilson, The Bobr Times

“Poignant and could not be more authentic”
Amandine de Chanteloup, Le Collectif

As an east coast native, I had never heard of Boblo (pronounced “Bob-Lo”) until a woman named Gloria told me about her psychic connection with an amusement park ferry boat. She claimed she could hear the “Boblo Boat” Columbia speak to her. I was naturally skeptical but intrigued once Gloria described the two distinct personalities of SS Columbia and her sister, Ste. Claire. Once I met the Boblo Boat restoration teams who were fighting to keep the remnants of Boblo alive by resurrecting these two decrepit steamboats, I was instantly bit by the Boblo bug. The story felt bigger than just Detroit. It became a story about people striving to accomplish the impossible.

You can’t shake a Faygo pop in Detroit without splashing someone with a Boblo memory. From first kisses and marriage proposals on the boats, to school field trips spent throwing up after riding the roller coaster, Boblo is a part of the city’s culture. Yet it closed down almost 30 years ago. There is something magical about generations of Detroiters still carrying around those memories, and I wanted to pay tribute to these while simultaneously peeling back the layers of nostalgia to see what stories or characters might be hiding underneath.

Our film pays homage to the forgotten civil rights hero, Sarah E. Ray, who forced the integration of Boblo Island back in 1945. Although I had never considered the history of segregation in amusement parks before, this was common practice across the United States. By researching Ray’s story and creating a stop motion sequence for our film, we were able to raise awareness of her legacy. Due to our efforts, her former home was recently chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the “11 Most Endangered” Historic sites in America.

The film also unearths the buried tale of Sugar Island, a former amusement park directly neighboring Boblo Island. It was purchased in 1945 by African Americans to be a “park for their own race.” Although the story of Sugar Island ends tragically in sabotage, true narratives are an imperative step towards genuine reconciliation.

In the end, I hope the film manages to walk an aesthetic and narrative tightrope, accommodating the fondest recollections of Boblo Island while also acknowledging its darker history. Although its main characters may be two old steamboats, it’s really a quintessential American story chock-full of whitewashed histories, a longing for a bygone era and affordable public spaces gobbled up by capitalist greed.

Boblo Boats: A Detroit Ferry Tale - Poster

Boblo Boats: A Detroit Ferry Tale - Aaron SchillingerAaron Schillinger

Aaron Schillinger is a Producer/Writer/Director/Editor whose directorial debut is Boblo Boats: A Detroit Ferry Tale (2021). The documentary is narrated by Motown legend Martha Reeves and was selected for FilmShop’s 2019 Breakthrough Competition at Film Society of Lincoln Center. Aaron is a cofounder of the Sarah E. Ray Project, an organization shining a light on the forgotten story of a Detroit civil rights pioneer and preserving her legacy for future generations. Aaron’s production company Baby Volcano Films specializes in telling stories that make a lasting impact. Their clients include non-profits such as Lambda Legal and the National Eating Disorders Association. Baby Volcano’s LGTBQ+ short film Pepper (2018) received premieres at the Seattle International Film Festival, Jeonju International Film Festival and Cleveland International Film Festival. Aaron graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Cinema Studies.

Film Information

Director: Aaron Schillinger
Country: United States
Year: 2021
Language: English
Runtime: 79 min
Rated:  PG


Producer: Steve Bannatyne, Isabel Sandoval, Jason Wehling, Jayil Pak, Pete Monro
Writer: Jason Wehling, Desiree Cooper, Jayil Pak
Animator: Bec Sloane
Cinematography:  CJ Gardella
Composer: Myles Rodenhouse
Key Cast: Martha Reeves (narrator)

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