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Students get sneak peek of TBIFF; public preview Thursday

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Students are competing in the Thunder Bay International Film Festival Student Film Competition on Jan. 25. Above is a group of Alpena High School freshmen filmmakers, from left to right: Amara Vanwagoner, Clayton Thomson, Brayden Broad and Nick Lusardi.

ALPENA — These students are getting their feet wet in the film industry. By creating their own Great Lakes-themed films, and sampling a handful of upcoming short films to be shown at Thunder Bay International Film Festival, they are learning how to captivate audiences while diving into historic and environmental themes relating to our waters.

Alpena High School students in the Science in the Sanctuary class last week got a sneak peek of the film festival. TBIFF on the Road starts in Rogers City from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Rogers City Theater on Wednesday, Jan. 22, then heads to the Alcona County Library in Harrisville from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 23. The festival, presented in partnership with The International Ocean Film Festival, continues at Alpena’s Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26. TBIFF on the Road concludes with film screenings at 2 p.m. Sunday at Rogers City Theater.

Students in the Science in the Sanctuary class, co-taught by John Caplis and Michelle Cornish, previewed the films on Friday in the high school auditorium.

“They have a great selection of films for us,” Caplis told the students prior to the film screening. “All of them have a science, or a stewardship, or a conservation theme, and I’m really excited to share them with you. This is just a taste of what is to come … the 22nd through the 26th, where they will have filmmakers from all over the world — you are going to see some international films today — bring their films to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary to share with the public.”

Friday’s films included “Hybrids,” directed by Florian Brauch of Germany. The imaginative film presents ocean creatures that evolved from the culmination of garbage and pollution in the sea. Five French CG (computer graphics) artists designed these “hybrid” creatures of the future. “The idea came from diving and finding rubbish in the ocean, and thinking how nature could use the pollution to enhance its defenses,” the filmmakers stated in a press release. “Witty and eerily imaginable, this film is both entertaining and foreboding,” the press release noted.

Courtesy Photo A free public sneak peek of the Thunder Bay International Film Festival is showing from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Art in the Loft.

“Bahia,” directed by Santiago Ramirez of Colombia, focused on Cartagena Bay’s coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests that used to offer a naturally balanced world that benefited fish, marine mammals and man. But the construction of the Canal del Dique destroyed this balance, leading to an area devoid of the natural habitat needed for many species to survive.

“Fragile — Why Turtle Hatchlings Need the Sea,” directed by Hendrik S. Schmitt of Germany, detailed turtle conservation efforts, explained by Sian Williams of the Gili Eco Trust in Indonesia. The turtle conservationist explains the adverse impact of egg poaching, habitat destruction, and inadvertent human efforts that can actually threaten the endangered species.

In “Deep Time,” directed by Kirsten and Joachim Jakobsen of Portugal, viewers take a deep dive to 1,000 meters below the surface for exclusive footage of several newly discovered species of fish. A pair of scientists in their submersible explain the secrets of their adaptive evolution.

Other short films shown at the student sneak peek included “Deep Look — Whack! Jab! Crack! It’s a Blackback Land Crab Smackdown,” by Elliott Kennerson of the U.S., “Blue Carbon: A Story from the Snohomish Estuary,” by Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele of the U.S., and “Water Warrior,” by Monica Medellin of the U.S., which is about a Latina surfer participating in a sport dominated by white males.

After the film screening, freshmen in the Science in the Sanctuary class took a moment to talk about their own films which have been submitted in the Student Film Competition at TBIFF. Student films that are selected will be screened at the festival starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25, and winners will be announced after the screenings, which are free to the public.

“This film was inspired by the story of Master Sergeant Wyman, who was a piot who crashed his plane into Lake Huron,” said Nick Lusardi, who created the film, “His Boots Are Empty,” with classmates. “He crashed his plane, and it was in the wintertime, and he walked across the ice, and to the Spectacle Reef Lighthouse, which is an outpost about 11 miles offshore. And, he remained in the lighthouse for a couple days. He broke in. There was no one there — it was the middle of winter.”

So he stayed a few days, then “he wrote a note that told the details of his crash, and then he said that he was going to go out and try to walk across the ice,” Lusardi continued. “And they never found him. He never came to shore, so it was assumed that he went out over the ice and fell in.”

Their film uses that true story and adds a fictional “what if?” detail: “What if he had a daughter who found that note?”

“Our character in our film is a little girl, who … she sort of looks around. She’s looking for her father,” Lusardi explained.

The little girl in the film is played by his 10-year-old sister, Elizabeth Lusardi, “whose acting job was fantastic, and the film would not have been possible without her,” he said of his little sister.

“She kind of goes on a metaphorical scavenger hunt throughout the places she’d most expect him to be,” said filmmaker Amara Vanwagoner. “She kind of loses hope on that, and then, she ends up receiving a letter from him, which, as Nick said, explains the details of his crash, and pretty much is his last sentimental good-bye to his family.”

In addition to Lusardi and Vanwagoner, freshmen Brayden Broad and Clayton Thomson were in the “His Boots Are Empty” group.

Students in the Science in the Sanctuary class took about a month to six weeks to create these films, which were part of a required assignment.

John Short made the film “Great Lakes Are Unpredictable,” with group members Alexander Grubey and Grace Edgekoski.

“It is a story about the ship near Munising Harbor, the Herman H. Hettler, it’s a ship that was sunk in a winter storm in 1926,” Short explained. “And the reason it sunk was because of two storms that occurred during its sinking. One drove it behind Grand Island … it essentially ran aground on a reef, and so the crew evacuated off the ship into Munising, then they came back a day later when it was all calmer and everything, and tried to pull it out, and they tried doing that for two days without any success.”

He said then another storm came up and took it.

“So two giant blizzards, essentially, sunk it within three days,” Short said.

Teacher Michelle Cornish said those films are important since they feature true stories.

“We worked with them on crafting a story to tell,” Cornish said. “Last year when we did the film project, we made it very science-based, and this year, on my side, we tried to make it a little more artsy, and I think that these two films really did a great job of that.”

She said watching the film festival sneak peek was a great experience for the students.

“The goal is that they go home and talk about it with their parents, and that their parents, in turn, want to come and see their films, and they might stay and watch other films,” Cornish said. “And it makes them realize that their films can compete with films like these.”

Another sneak peek, open to the public, is set for 6 to 8 p.m. this Thursday at Art in the Loft, sponsored by Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Art in the Loft. Admission is free, and light snacks will be offered. Beer and wine will be available to purchase. Festival tickets will be available for purchase, and there will be chances to win tickets. A preview of the new 2020 Sanctuary/Loft pARTnership events will be revealed as well.

For the film festival schedule and ticket information, go to thunderbayfriends.org/index.php/film-festival/. For more information, call 989-884-6200, or visit the GLMHC at 500 W. Fletcher St., Alpena. Many of the individual programs are $6 apiece. A ticket to Friday’s reception and films is $30, and the Saturday evening pass is $15. An all-access Thunder Pass is $100, which includes admission to all events and films.

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