Thunder Bay International Film Festival celebrating 10 years

Courtesy Photos This photo of sand tiger sharks taken by Elena Pent illustrates one of the films in the TBIFF, called “50 Shades of Sharks,” by Didier Noirot.

ALPENA — This could be better than shark week.

The 10th Annual Thunder Bay International Film Festival is nearly two weeks long, and features nearly 100 films, including some about sharks.

Finding value in the virtual

Since the TBIFF is fully virtual again this year, you can enjoy the whole festival from the convenience and comfort of your home.

The festival, from Jan. 26 to Feb. 6, is virtual because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as it was last year. Organizers were hoping to be in-person this year, but the federally owned Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center has remained closed throughout the pandemic. The film festival is normally held at the GLMHC.

This photo of a piping plover chick, taken by Gordon Garcia, illustrates one of the films in the TBIFF, called “Monty and Rose II,” by Bob Dolgan of Chicago.

Organizers are still excited to offer the festival in a virtual format, and remind the public that many of the films are free. Purchasing an All Access Thunder Pass for $100 gives you access to all the films, which are maritime-related, including a wide range of both oceanic and Great Lakes films.

“Many film festivals, even Sundance, just went virtual,” Film Festival Coordinator Stephanie Gandulla said in an interview on Thursday. “In the interest of safety, we’ve gone virtual again.”

She added that the virtual format casts a wider net, allowing people to tune in worldwide.

“Last year, we were really pleased with how successful it turned out to be, and how we were able to reach totally new audiences that we never would reach if we weren’t virtual,” Gandulla said. “It was such a success, the virtual, that we’ve decided, in the future, even when we go back to in-person, we will always have a virtual component of the film festival.”

Every ticket purchase goes toward funding for Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, including programming at the GLMHF, operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

A turtle heads toward the sun in this photo by Naman Govil illustrating the film, “Guardians of Turtles,” one of nearly 100 films in the TBIFF.

The TBIFF brings together a spectacular collection of independent films focused on the ocean and Great Lakes. The film festival is hosted by NOAA’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in partnership with the International Ocean Film Festival (San Francisco) and supported locally by the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

“Featuring an extensive collection of acclaimed, independent ocean and Great Lakes films of the past year, the festival features options for all ages and interests, ranging from adventure and science to marine life and coastal cultures,” a press release explained.

“These are new films,” Gandulla explained. “These are not films you saw last year, these are not films you saw five years ago, when we were in person.”

She added that it’s something to do as a family and learn about places you’ve never been or maybe even never heard of.

Forty-one free films

As part of the TBIFF, 41 free films will be offered, presented by NOAA, featuring 18 “Earth is Blue” short films, nine “Stories from the Blue,” and 14 “Stories from Thunder Bay.”

“Those are all free content,” Gandulla said. “All the Great Lakes are free content.”

Nick Zachar, filmmaker for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, is excited to be a part of this year’s TBIFF.

Zachar, who is also a NOAA diver, talked about the “Earth is Blue” campaign.

“It’s an ocean planet, and so, the National Marine Sanctuary System protects some of the most iconic underwater places throughout the U.S., including Thunder Bay,” Zachar said. “We started this campaign with the hope that images and videos would inspire people to protect our blue planet.”

“Monty and Rose II”

“This year we even have a little romance featuring ‘Monty and Rose II,’ a film about a pair of Great Lakes endangered shore birds that have become an international sensation,” Gandulla said in the release.

In “Monty and Rose II” conservationist and film director Bob Dolgan documents Chicago’s beloved piping plovers from their hatching in 2017 to their courtship, nesting, and raising chicks over three summers. As one of only 70 breeding pairs in the Great Lakes region, their inspiring story is just one of many inspiring films featured in the TBIFF 2022 program.

“Birds have always been a big part of who I am,” said Dolgan, who has been birding since he was 8 years old.

“Monty and Rose II: The World of Monty and Rose,” is a feature-length sequel to Dolgan’s short film “Monty and Rose.” He filmed both on the busy Montrose Beach in Chicago, hence the name of the male and female piping plovers, who mate for life.

He tells a story about his observations of the birds, nesting and roaming the busiest beach in Chicago.

“I spent regular time … at the beach, either filming or just observing or helping volunteer and protect the birds, and it was just an extraordinary thing to be a part of,” Dolgan said. “It felt like a film might be an ideal way to capture that.”

He said the Great Lakes population of piping plovers are federally endangered.

Lusardi’s “Lake Huron Red Tails”

Nick Lusardi’s name might sound familiar. That’s because he has won numerous awards in the student film competition over the past several years.

The 16-year-old Alpena High School junior is branching out this year as part of the regular lineup of TBIFF films, with his “Lake Huron Red Tails,” about recovering aircraft from Lake Huron flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, who trained in Michigan.

“One of these pilots was named Frank Moody, and in 1944, he crashed a P-39 Airacobra in Lake Huron,” Lusardi said. “A few years ago, they discovered his plane, and my father, Wayne Lusardi, an archaeologist, started doing some work … to document and ultimately recover the wreck of the plane.”

Lusardi is thankful to everyone who participated in the project, which he filmed and edited into a 9-minute short film, focusing on a specific section of the project that took place in 2021.

Moody’s nephew, Eric Bryant, came up in 2021 to assist with the project.

“What the film is based around is his experience, coming back and getting that closure,” Lusardi said.

Q&A sessions

In addition to the unique collection of short and full-length films, many only available through the festival’s online portal, film enthusiasts can also participate in live stream Q&A sessions with filmmakers, scientists, and ocean and Great Lakes stewards.

TBNMS Superintendent Jeff Gray said in the press release that this year’s selection of films will inspire you to pull up your calendar and make plans to dive into our nation’s breathtaking marine sanctuaries.

“Key to hosting the film festival every year is to encourage the community to learn about important issues and challenges our blue planet is facing, but to also inspire everyone to get into your sanctuary, explore, play, and take care of these precious resources,” Gray said.

50 years

“Adopting the theme, ‘Save Spectacular,’ for the national sanctuary system’s 50th Anniversary, when you watch any of NOAA’s ‘Stories from the Blue’ films as part of the festival program, you’ll understand why that theme is spot on,” said Gray. “The jaw-dropping cinematography, research, and conservation work underway to save our coral reefs, sea mammals, coastal habitats around the country — and right here in Thunder Bay, our fresh waters, habitats, and maritime history — is nothing less than spectacular.”

Student competition

A popular component of the film festival is the Student Short-Film Competition in partnership with the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative. The 2022 theme is “Science in the Sanctuary…” and offers many fresh perspectives from our youngest aspiring filmmakers.

Student films will be available online to the public as of Jan. 29, along with an announcement of the top three winners. All submissions are juried by professional filmmakers and Great Lakes conservationists. In the student competition, cash prizes are awarded to the 1st ($300), 2nd ($200), and 3rd ($100) place winners with sponsorship from the Friends of TBNMS. The deadline for submissions was Jan. 4. Visit bit.ly/2022sfc to learn more about the student competition.

For details and tickets, visit thunderbayfriends.org. If you have questions, email steph.gandulla@noaa.gov or call 989-884-6212.

Individual feature films are $10 each, and short and themed packages are $12 each.

“It’s literally like ordering a film on Netflix,” Gandulla noted.

Once you have unlocked a film, you have until 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 6 to complete watching it, as many times as you like.


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