Thanks to you — our sponsors, ticket holders, aspiring student and professional filmmakers, and volunteers — the Thunder Bay International Film Festival (TBIFF) sold out for three consecutive nights! Collectively, from Rogers City to Harrisville for the first two nights, and in Alpena for two nights and two days of full programming, the festival had a record number of ticket sales. A big shout out to everyone who helped make this an extraordinary year in every way!

“Seeing so many people from all over the state enjoy the film festival, many for six years in a row, makes all the effort worthwhile,” said Stephanie Gandulla, film festival coordinator and maritime archaeologist. The sanctuary is one of only five host sites around the world to partner with the International Ocean Film Festival, North America’s premier film event for ocean-related independent films. “Being able to feature a combination of amazing international films about all facets of the ocean, along with Great Lakes films oftentimes locally produced, has really helped distinguish the Thunder Bay International Film Festival,” Gandulla added.

Big 5 DiveHighlights of this year’s film festival included the premiere of the “The Big Five Dive,” a 28-minute film produced and directed by Alpena native Elizabeth Kaiser documenting a group of women attempting to dive one historic site in each of the five Great Lakes in under 24 hours. Led by Gandulla, the goal of the team was to strengthen and support the female dive community. The event took place on PADI Women’s Dive Day,
July 16th, 2016.

Gandulla was joined by several other women with local connections, including Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary education coordinator Sarah Waters, former Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative coordinator Meaghan Gass, Alpena High School graduate Hannah MacDonald, and former TBNMS graphic designer Jaqueline Edwards. The film documents how the crew confronted “fast currents, zero-visibility dive conditions, traffic jams, harsh weather, and of course a massive time crunch” to cover so many miles within 24 hours.

Mindjimendamowin (Blood Memory)Another film premiere, “Mindjimendamowin (Blood Memory)” directed by Harrisville filmmaker Mary Ellen Jones and filmed by Alpena resident Zachary Irving was shown to a full house at the Alcona County Public Library as part of TBIFF on the Road. The film is about a young man’s journey to reclaim his Anishinabek heritage in northeast Michigan. It will be shown again in Alpena at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center as part of the sanctuary’s new monthly Cinema series on October 12 at 7:00 pm.

“Crossing Lake Huron,” produced by northern Michigan filmmaker Corey Adkins also documented a monumental journey, this time involving three paddle boarders. Adkins met the Traverse City team, Jeff Guy, Joe Lorenz, and Kwin Morris, last year at the film festival. As a filmmaker he was intrigued by the team’s plans to raise awareness for protecting the Great Lakes, as well as donations to support the Friends of TBNMS, by stand-up paddling 90 miles across Lake Huron. On June 21, 2017, after two years of planning and preparation, the three men climbed aboard their individual paddle boards at Alpena’s Misery Bay, and continued paddling until they reached Canada’s Fathom Five National Marine Park, 28 hours later.

Crossing Lake HuronAs locals know, this area is called “Shipwreck Alley” because of approximately 200 ships that rest along Lake Huron’s shoreline and bottomlands due to treacherous storms and waters. To ensure the paddlers’ safety, Wayne Calkins of Alpena’s Bolenz Jewelers volunteered his boat and time to provide one of two safety boats and crews that supported the cause. Friends of TBNMS board member and Alpena resident Al Moe, local paramedic Mike Sanders, and sanctuary media coordinator Stephanie Gandulla, accompanied Calkins as well. Morris’ brother and sister-in-law served as crew on the other boat. The paddlers raised $7,000 in donations to benefit Friends of TBNMS education and outreach efforts.

“We are so fortunate to be able to bring this caliber of programming to Alpena and to have such a receptive audience that appreciates this unique opportunity,” said Sanctuary Superintendent Jeff Gray. “The film festival provides a creative community forum to foster understanding of our connections to the Great Lakes and ocean, and the need to protect these invaluable resources for future generations.”

Plans are already underway for the 2019 Thunder Bay International Film Festival so if you would like to be a sponsor, contact Katie Wolf at or if you would like to volunteer, contact Stephanie Gandulla at