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TBIFF to feature free Great Lakes films, live Q&A sessions

Courtesy Image Above, a diver is seen near the wreck of the W.G. Mason in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in this photo provided by NOAA.

ALPENA ­– There’s really no reason to leave your house from Jan. 20 to 31, thanks to this year’s Thunder Bay International Film Festival.

The 9th annual TBIFF will not only feature national and international films about our oceans, but many free films about the Great Lakes, as well.

Offered exclusively online this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the festival begins Wednesday and runs through Jan. 31. More than 50 films are viewable from the comfort of your own home.

Each full-length feature film, Q&A session, and multi-film program can be viewed at any time during the festival period, and can be seen multiple times if desired.

Free livestream Q&A

The free Q&A sessions with filmmakers and scientists are offered in a live format and then viewable on demand during and after the film festival.

“There are eight topics,” Stephanie Gandulla, film festival coordinator, said about the livestream Q&A sessions. “So eight separate events, with eight different topics. So, it depends — sometimes we will have two filmmakers on at a time, sometimes we’ll have a couple scientists.”

The livestream Q&A not only offers an educational element, but, since it is online this year, filmmakers and scientists from across the country and world can participate at the same time. Some of the places filmmakers and scientists will be tuning in from include California, Florida, Georgia, Washington, D.C., and from all over the Great Lakes area.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to ask questions in real time,” Gandulla said. “They can chat their questions in and hopefully the filmmaker or scientist will be able to get to all of them.”

Most of the Q&A sessions are offered in the evening, but a couple are on weekend afternoons.

Here is the link to livestream events: https://watch.eventive.org/thunderbay2021/live.

Ease of access online

“You could do a lot of films in the film festival without spending a dime,” Gandulla said. “You just set up your free account and then … it’s simply a matter of clicking on a movie poster image that looks interesting to you. As soon as you click on it, you’re going to get a description and an option to what’s called ‘unlock’ that film.”

Free Great Lakes films

All of the Great Lakes content, featuring at least eight films, is accessible at no cost.

“One filmmaker in particular that I’m happy to feature is Jason Whalen,” Gandulla said, adding that “Whalen has been to the festival in person before. He does great short films about science and nature in the Great Lakes.”

His films to be featured include “Managing the Invasive Rusty Crayfish,” “Coldwater Legacy,” and “The Gift of Wild.”

“Another one, as part of the Great Lakes, that we’re super excited to have back is Corey Adkins,” she said.

His featured 20-minute film is “Paddling the Chain of Lakes.”

“The Noble Odyssey Foundation has … the sea cadets program,” Gandulla said. “It’s super cool. We’ve partnered with them in the past. They work with students ­– students actually go out and run the research vessels, and then, the guy who runs it is also a documentary filmmaker, so he has a couple of films in (the festival) too.”

The final Great Lakes feature Gandulla highlighted is called “Saving Buffalo Reef,” by Finn Ryan.

“I’m excited about that one because it features the restoration of a reef in the Great Lakes — in Lake Superior actually — but it’s very similar to the project that the sanctuary partnered with to restore fish habitat right here in Thunder Bay,” Gandulla said. “So it’s a good one to watch, I think.”

Another free Great Lakes film is being offered in partnership with Michigan Sea Grants, called “Freshwater Feasts.”

“That’s all about Great Lakes aquaculture,” Gandulla said. “So that’s a good one, for sure. They’ve got some cooking shows as a part of that. It’s very specifically about farming in water — aquaculture — so, fish farms in the Great Lakes.”

TBNMS short films

“Another really cool thing is the sanctuary short films program very specifically about the sanctuary,” she added.

That program is also viewable for free by clicking on the “Stories from Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary” link.

To view the entire film festival, from feature films to themed programs to Q&A sessions, a Thunder Pass is offered for $100. Or you can peruse the lineup and choose films and programs a la carte for $10 to $12 each, unless otherwise noted as free programs.

For tickets and access to all films and programs, visit the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary website at thunderbayfriends.org.

Funds support

programming, events

Funds that are raised through the TBIFF, after covering costs, go toward local education and community outreach initiatives.

“These funds help support efforts such as student shipwreck cruises aboard the Lady Michigan (glass-bottom boat), the sanctuary underwater robotics program for school children, and updating museum exhibits and associated educational programming,” said Katie Wolf, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Education and Community Outreach/Friends Liaison.

“Friends fundraisers and sponsorships also help support fun family annual events like the Thunder Bay Maritime Festival, Halloween Trick-or-Treat night, and the many community lectures, webinars and films offered throughout the year,” Wolf explained.

“Typically, funds raised through events such as the film festival also enable us to keep the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center open seven days a week, with the current exception of closure during the pandemic,” she continued. “However, we are using this time to make updates that will improve the visitor experience once we are safely able to open the museum again.”

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