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SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WZZM) -- It's opening night for one of the biggest attractions along the lakeshore, which is now a few miles closer to Chicago and farther from Grand Rapids.

The scene is set with a big screen, a beautiful beach, and a classic movie feel.

"Sort of like an old time drive-in," says Hopwood Depree, co-founder of the Waterfront Film Festival.

It's similar, but not the same as the old days, when the Waterfront Film Festival was in Saugatuck.

"While those growing pains are difficult at times, it's still a necessary move," says Depree.

South Haven is now taking center stage for the second year in a row.

"We promote the film festival to the entire world, really, as well as West Michigan, so it's not this town versus that town," says Depree.

Festival organizers have received applications to host the event from several cities, including Holland, Grand Haven, and Grand Rapids. Depree says the festival costs about a quarter of a million dollars each year, so he had to go to the city that made the most financial sense. This year he says that was South Haven.

"South Haven had a really proactive mayor who helped us, and he pounded the pavement," says Depree.

Festival organizers would not release numbers on last year's attendance, but the visitors bureau estimates that foot traffic is up nearly 30% this year. Local businesses are preparing for a big turnout.

"We had that horrible storm last year, but this year we have great weather coming our way, so I know there's going to be floods of people coming into town," says Heidi Gesiakowski, co-owner of Taste.

"A lot of people from the Chicago area come in; we have Chicago coffee, which is Metropolis," says Krista Watson, a barista at the Eclectic Cafe.

WZZM 13 asked Depree how much longer the festival will be in South Haven.

"We don't know, that's the great thing," says Depree.

Festival organizers hope to eventually expand and have year-round events in cities up and down the lakeshore. The Waterfront Film Festival runs through Thursday.

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