TBIFF draws hundreds; virtual program starts today

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Above, filmmaker Nick Lusardi, front left, answers an audience question while the other filmmakers on the panel look on Saturday in Alpena. Panel members included Lusardi, Corey Adkins, Alex Rose, Zachary Irving, Liz Larin, Bart Bund, and David Ruck.

ALPENA — Hundreds of visitors enjoyed the 11th annual Thunder Bay International Film Festival in-person this year, featuring over 100 marine-themed films and a filmmakers’ panel.

If you were unable to attend, or if you want to immerse yourself from home, a virtual option is available today through Feb. 12.

To view the online offerings, visit thunderbayfriends.org. Some films are offered for free, and others can be seen for a fee.

At the in-person festival, filmmakers took questions from moderator Stephanie Gandulla and the audience at Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.

The panel included Alpena’s Nick Lusardi and Zachary Irving, as well as Corey Adkins, Alex Rose, Bart Bund, Liz Larin, and David Ruck.

News Photo by Darby Hinkley students from Grand Valley State University prepare to volunteer at the Thunder Bay International Film Festival on Friday in Alpena.

Advice from filmmakers included:

— believe in your mission.

— surround yourself with positive, productive people.

­– be original.

— let the story evolve.

— be prepared for changes and shifts in plans.

­– practice filming, photographing, and interviewing whenever you get the chance.

— don’t be afraid to promote yourself and your mission.

— network and learn from other filmmakers as you go.


Students from Grand Valley State University attended the festival as volunteers as part of a film festival management course.

Amanda Witsaman is a graduate assistant for GVSU’s Hospitality and Tourism Management Department.

“I’m here with 11 students and Professor Dr. Patty Janes, and we are here to volunteer at the Thunder Bay International Film Festival,” Witsaman said on Friday. “Our 11 students have never been to Alpena.”

Witsaman and the student volunteers provided friendly faces to help visitors navigate through the festival and answer any questions, as well as direct them to where they needed to go.

“We’re excited to be here, and we’re excited to engage with the Alpena community,” Witsaman said.

“Grand Valley State University’s Hospitality program has worked with the staff at Thunder Bay (National Marine Sanctuary) for over 10 years, on various projects,” said Janes. “But this is the first time that we’ve actually had a class and students who came just to work the festival.”

Olivia Christensen, freshman Business major at GVSU, had never been to a film festival before TBIFF.

“I thought it would be really fun to go and experience it,” Christensen said of the off-campus course. “I also really like movies, so I thought it would be fun.”

Lainey VanBeek is a freshman majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management. She’s impressed with her first trip to Alpena.

“It’s really pretty, from what I’ve seen,” VanBeek said. “Pretty cold, too.”

On Friday, she couldn’t wait for the festival to start.

“I’m just excited about the overall experience,” VanBeek said. “I’ve never been to a film festival before, or anything like this.”

She was especially looking forward to talking to filmmakers.

“I’m hoping to meet people, especially the filmmakers, and get to talk to them,” she said. “And learn about their background about making the films, because I feel like that’s really interesting. You don’t get the opportunity to talk to a filmmaker every day.”

James Olson is a freshman majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management.

His favorite part about the event is “the opportunity to meet people and network and make connections.”

Olson is happy to be visiting Alpena for the first time.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “I’m intrigued with the heritage site of the shipwrecks — I’m a snorkeler myself.”

He added that he’d love to come back in the summer to check out some shipwrecks up close.

Bree Bonnema is a senior majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management.

“I think it’ll be a really unique opportunity,” she said about volunteering at the TBIFF. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but I’m really excited to see what comes of it all.”

She hopes to gain some experience she can use in her future as an event planner.

Samantha Zebell is a junior majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management.

“I just heard about this class … it seemed really interesting,” Zebell said. “I was just excited to be able to come up here this weekend.”

She added that having a hands-on experience is more enriching than learning in the classroom.

“I love this kind of work — concessions, ushering, greeting people — I love it. It’s so fun,” Zebell said.

Danielle Weller is a junior majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management.

“I thought it would be a fun, unique experience,” Weller said of the film festival management course. “So why not try it out?”

She has a heart for water protection.

“I’ve been really passionate about sustainability and oceans and waters my entire life, so it’s great that that’s what this entire film festival is about,” Weller said.

Megan Cellucci is a junior majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Cellucci said of her first trip to Northeast Michigan. “I’m from Chicago, so I have not really explored much of Michigan besides Grand Rapids.”

She’s excited for the opportunity.

“I think it’s super cool that they’ve been able to offer the film festival class,” Cellucci said.

Getting that first-hand experience is valuable, she added.

“I like the high-pace environment and high-energy,” she said, adding that she hopes to be involved in sports event planning as a career.

Madison Willoughby is a senior majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management.

“It’s a really cool opportunity,” Willoughby said. “I’ve been up north but never this far east.”

She said her cousins come up to the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center every summer, but she had never been there.

“So I was grateful to get the opportunity to come up and see what a cool spot it was,” Willoughby said.

Sophie Kempf is a junior majoring in Environmental Studies.

“It’s really important for me to see and comprehend what the people aspect is to sustainability, and what that looks like,” Kempf said, adding that working with people at the film festival will give her valuable experience.

Kempf’s career plans include travel and research.

Jimena Torres Gomez is a senior majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management.

“Having the opportunity to be in this class is something that we should all just appreciate and be grateful for because not all schools have these types of programs,” she said. “So, for the school to have this partnership with the Sanctuary and allow us to get this experience while we’re still in school it’s something that I’m beyond grateful for.”

“Hands down, any time, as an educator, we can make an experience real instead of purely theoretical, it’s a good decision,” Janes said. “Community-based learning is really the only way I teach … You can read it, you can see it, you can hear it, but if you do it, you’ll remember it forever.”


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