Alpena filmmakers to screen films in TBIFF this weekend

Courtesy Photo Zachary Irving of Irving Entertainment captures a sunrise on a U.S. Department of Defense project at Camp Grayling.

ALPENA — While this weekend’s Thunder Bay International Film Festival features films from around the world, two young Alpena filmmakers are presenting their work to the community at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.

Zachary Irving of Irving Entertainment in Alpena has two short films showing at the festival: “Sinkhole MicroAdventure” at 6 p.m. Saturday, and “Fresh Waves” at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Alpena High School senior Nick Lusardi will also have two short films in the festival: “Lake Huron Red Tails” at 10 a.m. Saturday, and “Rockport” at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Both Irving and Lusardi are from Alpena, and they have shown films in the TBIFF in prior years. Lusardi has won several student competitions for his work. This year’s festival does not have a student competition, but Lusardi was asked if he would like to be a part of the festival as a filmmaker, and he was excited for the opportunity.

Lusardi shot “Rockport” a few months ago at Rockport State Recreation Area north of Alpena on Lake Huron.

“It was created, actually, for a school competition that I’m in, where the prompt was to talk about a local historical site and why people should visit it,” Lusardi said about the two-minute film. “The film is very short and very simple. It talks about Rockport and demonstrates the activities that you can do there.”

Those activities include hiking, fossil hunting, diving, kayaking, and more.

“It’s just a very cool, interesting place … you can go cross-country skiing, bird watching, all sorts of really cool stuff there.”

Lusardi is the president of the AHS chapter of Business Professionals of America, for which the film was created.

“We go to a local, state, and hopefully, national competition where you can compete in different business-related events,” Lusardi explained. “One of them is called digital media production, which is something that I’ve competed in for a couple of years.”

He has been creating films for at least four years, and plans to continue after graduation.

“What’s cool is that it started off as, for a school project, my friends and I made a film for the student competition that they used to have that unfortunately they aren’t running this year,” Lusardi noted. “We ended up winning that competition, and that, sort of, was a jumping off point for me because I realized it was something that I really wanted to do. And, eventually, the quality of the work that I was putting out was enough that (film festival organizers) invited me to be a part of it, and to showcase some of my work.”

Organizers said there was not enough interest to have a student competition in this year’s TBIFF, but it may return in festivals to come.

“Lake Huron Red Tails” is the second of Lusardi’s films in this year’s festival.

“This is a cool project with a lot behind it,” Lusardi said of the film, which he made in 2021. “It’s about a project that’s taking place down in Port Huron, led by a team of archaeologists, to document and recover a World War II aircraft that crashed in Lake Huron back in the 1940s.”

While that event occurred downstate, he noted the connection to Alpena.

“It’s very relevant to the underwater work that they’re doing up here, and to maritime archaeology as a whole,” he continued. “The eight-minute film showcases not just the field work being done in 2021 and the plans for further archaeology and conservation, but it also mentions the history of the pilot, who was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, who were some of the first African-American pilots to integrate into the military.”

He is excited to share “Lake Huron Red Tails” with the public.

“It’s probably one of my most heartfelt, more important films that I’ve made,” Lusardi said.

Lusardi has made about 25 short films so far.

“Plans for the future involve filmmaking, for sure, in some capacity,” he said.

Irving, 29, has been making films since he was in high school. He is now the CEO of Irving Entertainment in Alpena. His portfolio includes projects for the U.S. Army, National Geographic, FedEx, Sea-Doo, Great Lakes Now (PBS), and more.

“The work has structure to it, but every single job is different, and every single story is different, and that’s why I love it,” Irving said, adding that he is a creative daydreamer by nature, so this line of work is the perfect fit for him. “It’s definitely a process that you have to learn through doing. And if you don’t want to put in the work, then you’re not going to be the best that you can be. I find it very rewarding.”

His short film, “Sinkhole MicroAdventure,” features Irving’s dad, Gary Irving, paddling over two underwater sinkholes located at the north end of North Point and El Cajon Bay. It was filmed in the summer of 2022. The film gives people the opportunity to see the sinkholes up close in the middle of winter without leaving their theater seats.

“The Alpena area and Iosco County are part of the Karst project,” Irving explained. “We are on a Karst bed of limestone. And so, we actually have the most sinkholes out of all of Michigan, in this area.”

Known sinkholes in the Alpena area include the Stevens Twin Sinks and Bruski Sink, Rockport State Park Sinks, Sunken Lake, Mystery Valley, and Misery Bay Sink.

“Out on North Point of Thunder Bay, if you go out past Lafarge, you come to a parking lot with a little walkway that takes you out to the mouth of El Cajon Bay,” Irving noted. “There’s a little inlet that you could bring either a kayak or a canoe to, and you can paddle overtop of these two sinkholes that are predicted to be over 80 feet deep. It goes from three feet to 80, like that.”

He used a drone for some of the shots in “Sinkhole MicroAdventure.”

“In the video, we have aerial footage with our drone that just showcases that dropoff right away,” he said. “It’s an experience that you’ll never feel unless you’re there, and this is the best way that we can represent it and show it to you.”

The second Irving film in the festival is “Fresh Waves,” which highlights the Alpena Downtown Development Authority’s mural project. What began in 2019 with a colorful mural on the side of Family Enterprise has blossomed into a downtown-wide beautification project featuring the work of many talented artists. The film focuses on the artwork and process of Aaron Golbeck and Chad Bolsinger, who teamed up to make that first mural.

Irving hopes the community is as excited as he is to attend the film festival and see all the wonderful works from filmmakers all over the country and world.

“These films are international, these films are something that this community has never seen before,” Irving said. “It’s something that NOAA has brought to this community, which is very amazing. It’s a gem to have that.”

He encourages other young filmmakers to not only watch the films, but to attend the filmmakers’ panel at 3 p.m. on Saturday to learn all they can from those in the festival.

“Just having this kind of connection, and this ability to network in such a rural area, it’s a blessing,” Irving said.

TBIFF starts this evening in Harrisville, continues Saturday and Sunday in Alpena, and wraps up Monday in Rogers City. To purchase tickets and view the film schedule and descriptions, visit thunderbayfriends.org. Most programs are $10, and include a slate of multiple films. You can purchase an all-inclusive Thunder Pass for $100 for entry into any of the programs. Proceeds benefit the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.


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