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Traverse City buzzing at the chance to see Madonna

Reservations for Saturday started pouring in more than a month ago to Red Ginger.

Tables usually are booked a few days in advance at the popular Asian-themed restaurant in Traverse City. But this won’t be any old day for businesses and residents of the tranquil cherry capital.

It’s Madonna day, and that changes everything.

The 49-year-old Material Girl is coming Saturday to the Traverse City Film Festival to introduce her documentary about the orphans of Malawi, “I Am Because We Are.”

Locals are quick to point out that Madonna has visited the region privately. Her father’s Ciccone Vineyards and Winery is located in nearby Suttons Bay (and it’s a site of a reception tonight for festival sponsors).

But now Madonna will be part of a very public event in her home state. And the world’s biggest pop diva is doing it at a time when her personal life, always a hot gossip item, is under extra-intense scrutiny.

“It’s definitely generated a lot of excitement. A lot. It’s the talk of the town,” says Mark Haworth, manager of Red Ginger, who hopes Madonna can drop by the VIP room that will be set aside for special festival guests.

The plan is for Madonna to fly in Saturday from New York, where she’s rehearsing for her upcoming world tour (which currently doesn’t have a metro Detroit stop). She’s supposed to depart later that night.

She’s expected to introduce the film at a sold-out 8 p.m. screening at the State Theatre (a sold-out audience at the nearby City Opera House will see a simulcast of her appearance).

A possible question-and-answer session afterward hasn’t been confirmed.

“It’s going to be an electrifying moment. There’s only going to be 500 people in the theater. Usually, if you want to see Madonna, you’re in a 20,000-seat arena,” says the festival’s founder, Oscar-winning director Michael Moore, who invited Madonna to be part of this year’s lineup. “Ten minutes into the film, you’re going to forget about all the noise that surrounds the celebrity aspect of this and get into the film in a deep and personal way.”

Moore’s prediction just may come true. Residents of Traverse City sound committed to keeping things as civilized and frenzy-free as possible.

Madonna mania may be the norm in the tabloids, but that’s not how they roll in northern Michigan.

“We tend to be kind of protective of our celebrities,” says Mike Norton of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. “One of the worries here, if there is a worry, is not having Madonna around, but that some people would create a crush experience. We’re just not like that here. People come here to relax and get away from that kind of stuff.”

In other words, if anyone behaves rudely on Saturday, it’s likely to be the paparazzi, not a native. “We’d be embarrassed if someone came up here and wouldn’t have the space to relax,” says Norton.

Celebrity media outlets like People magazine and the syndicated TV show “Extra” are set to cover Madonna’s visit.

“She’s helping us in so many ways to get the word out about the festival, because everything she does is so interesting, in so many ways, to people,” says the festival’s executive director, Deb Lake.

Madonna, who was born in Bay City and raised in Pontiac and Rochester Hills, is constantly in the spotlight, whether it’s for releasing a new CD, like her latest “Hard Candy,” or for adopting a child from Malawi, her son, David, who’s now 2.

Most recently, she has denied rumors that she’s splitting from her husband, British director Guy Ritchie, and involved somehow with New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, whose wife recently filed for divorce.

To top it off, her brother Christopher Ciccone has a new book out, “Life with My Sister Madonna” (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $26), a tell-all account that portrays Ritchie as homophobic and Madonna as a self-absorbed superstar.

Compared to all the celebrity coverage, there’s been much less focus on Madonna’s efforts to help Malawi through her documentary.

“All … the public knows is what they read in Us Weekly about Madonna adopting David,” says Moore. “It’s just fodder for the mean-spirited gossip columns and celebrity press that exists in this country. When you see this film, you really understand not only her adoption of this child, but her desire to really try to save a nation of people that are dying.”

Moore and Madonna have been friends since he made 1995’s “Canadian Bacon,” which was coproduced by her company Maverick Films.

When he was in London filming scenes for his health-care documentary, “Sicko,” Madonna invited him to see an early cut of “I Am Because We Are” and give his two cents.

“When it was finished earlier this year, she sent me the final version of it and I loved it and I was moved by it,” he says.

The Traverse City screening is a logical result of Madonna and Moore’s mutual respect and her mission to educate fans about Malawi, a nation of 12 million and more than a million orphans that has been devastated by poverty and AIDS, says Nathan Rissman, who directed “I Am Because We Are.”

“We wanted people everywhere to see it,” says Rissman. “I think we’re trying to get as much exposure as we can, because at the end of the day, the most important thing is for people to see this and feel like they can make a difference.”

Tickets to the documentary were sold out immediately after going on sale on a Saturday in early June.

Half of the 500 available tickets were sold at the State Theatre box office, while the other half were sold by lottery to members of the Friends of the Traverse City Film Festival.

A line started forming outside the theater around 3 a.m. Thursday. On Friday, festival staffers handed out numbers to ensure an orderly and fair process. Instead of using ordinary pieces of paper, they tore pages out of an old math textbook, which would have been extremely difficult to copy.

People flew in from all over the country for a chance to buy the maximum two seats at $25 each, says Beth Milligan, publicist for the festival. Proceeds from the screenings will go to Madonna’s foundation, Raising Malawi.

The desire to see Madonna was so huge that tickets were spotted on Web sites like eBay for $1,000 to $3,000 a pair.

Ever since Madonna’s visit was announced in May, the festival has been working to make sure the evening goes smoothly, according to Milligan.

The anticipation and planning has been “a good kind of crazy,” says Milligan, who expects everyone in town to be well-behaved on the big night.

She hasn’t seen anyone hawking Madonna T-shirts or other souvenirs. Not yet.

“I think the city is a little classier than that,” she says.

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