Sanctuary to host second Thunder Bay Film Festival

ALPENA The second annual Thunder Bay Film Festival is bringing an impressive lineup of ocean and Great Lakes-inspired films to Alpena from around the world next weekend.

The Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary will be kicking off the festival Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. with an opening reception at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center where hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar will be available. Opening night films begin at 7 p.m. and range from short films on marine issues, to the world of manta rays and the evening ends with a local film on the story of Calcite, a limestone quarry in Rogers City.

“These are films you are not going to be able to catch anywhere else,” Stephanie Gandulla, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary media and outreach coordinator, said. “This is an opportunity to see world class films right here in Alpena.”

The 26 films chosen for the festival were picked from an elite group of films selected from hundreds of submissions by the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival. The traveling San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival only goes to five communities in the world, and Alpena is one of only two in the United States.

“We are trying this year to include more Great Lakes films and Great Lakes filmmakers,” Gandulla said. “The point of a film festival is to experience these films beyond just pressing play, because we do that all the time.

“One of the big points of a film festival is that you get to interact with other people as you experience the film. Someone presents the film and there are opportunities for question and answer afterward and social events where you can actually talk to the filmmaker. It’s just a whole new level of really experiencing one of the most powerful forms of communication out there, which is film.”

The festival runs the entire weekend, and offers numerous opportunities to speak with filmmakers and presenters of the different featured films.

The Saturday of the festival is filled with programs and discussions with presenters and filmmakers. And Sunday viewing starts again at 12 p.m. and includes some films specially made to be shown on the center’s Science on a Sphere program. The festival weekend wraps up with a party at the Black Sheep Pub in downtown Alpena to enjoy specialty refreshments with sanctuary staff, volunteers, filmmakers and festival fans.

Tickets for Friday include the opening reception and are $25; Saturday tickets are $10, or $5 for students, and are the same prices for Sunday. Full weekend passes are available for $40, and all tickets may be purchased at the sanctuary store in the Maritime Heritage Center.

Last year around 100 people of all ages attended the festival, and Gandulla said she hopes even more people will be able to attend this year.

“I hope the festival will continue to grow into even more venues,” Gandulla said. “We want to make this a community-wide event. There is also hope to make it a juried show in the future, and possibly offer student scholarship awards for student filmmaking. These festivals are popping up all over the country and really help to encourage community involvement.”

The Thunder Bay Film Festival hopes to bring about a larger awareness of the ocean, Great Lakes environment, and serve as an inspiration for filmmakers in the community through the experience of the festival.

For more information about the festival, or to become a festival volunteer, contact Gandulla at 356-8805, ext. 38, or email

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.