Area Youth Enable Hundreds of Students to Participate in Film Festival

An example of how youth in northeast Michigan team up to offer fellow students extraordinary opportunities to broaden their horizons and learn about the world around them took place this year at the Thunder Bay International Film Festival (TBIFF).

Nearly a thousand students from Presque Isle, Alpena and Alcona Counties were able to experience the Thunder Bay International Film Festival either by riding a bus to the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, or in some cases, sanctuary staff took the film festival to their school auditoriums.

Last October, the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary submitted a grant application to the Northeast Michigan Youth Advisory Council. The proposal requested help to cover the cost of student transportation to the film festival, as well as cost for awards for the Student Film Festival Competition, “Sanctuaries Are…,” hosted by the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMI GLSI) in partnership with the sanctuary.

The Northeast Michigan Youth Advisory Council (NEMYAC) is a part of the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan that enables local students to learn about the art and science of philanthropy. Local students in Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle Counties comprise NEMYAC. These student leaders become keenly aware of the needs of their community by reviewing and making difficult budgeting decisions to determine which grant applications get funded fully or partially.

Each grant applicant is required to present before the youth advisory council after submitting the written application as part of the grant review process. Sylvie Luther, a Thunder Bay Junior High School student who is actively involved in several programs at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, presented the grant proposal before the youth advisory council in November. Once decisions were made, the Friends learned that it received a partial grant award for $1,250 to cover student bus transportation to “sneak peek” film festival daytime programs starting the week of January 15.

“Finding out what the youth advisory council finds most important to fund is always a learning experience,” said Katie Wolf, who helps write grants for the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. “The NEMYAC students take their responsibilities to heart and are very thoughtful in making sure the grant funds available serve as many students as possible, and in the most meaningful way.”

“These films are carefully curated to include an impressive balance of international, national, regional, and local films that tell important stories about our ocean and Great Lakes,” said Stephanie Gandulla, TBNMS maritime archaeologist and film festival coordinator. “Students of all ages are inspired by topics presented at the film festival. They care deeply for these life-giving waters and want to learn how they can be the best stewards,” Gandulla added.

“Engaging our youth, all of which have the capacity to lead and become stewards of these precious fresh water resources throughout northeast Michigan, and around the world, is an important part of the Thunder Bay International Film Festival. One way or another, our youth serve as a motivation for everything we do at the sanctuary,” said Jeff Gray, Sanctuary Superintendent. “When students understand that their peers helped make it possible for them to have this unique educational experience, and vice versa, deeper, long-lasting connections are made. That can be very powerful,” Gray added.

To learn more about the Thunder Bay International Film Festival, visit or To learn more about NEMYAC, visit