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12th Annual Thunder Bay International Film Festival Focuses on the Global Importance of Protecting Water Resources

68 Films ~ 3 City Venues ~ 5 Days ~ Endless Impact

Each January, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary brings the world of cinema to northeast Michigan with some of the most impressive ocean and Great Lakes films from around the world. This year’s event kicks off Wednesday, January 24 and runs through Sunday, January 28 and encompasses three cities—Alpena, Rogers City and Harrisville—along Michigan’s sunrise coast. Film screenings are complemented by social events, educational activities, and opportunities to meet filmmakers. The complete film schedule is attached.

The Thunder Bay Film Festival is the only water-focused cinematic event in the state of Michigan—which is surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes and boasts nearly 3,200 miles of freshwater coastline (the longest in the country). The Great Lakes cover more than 94,000-square-miles and holds an estimated six quadrillion gallons of water—about one-fifth of the world’s freshwater surface water supply and nine-tenths of the U.S. supply. The protection of water, native aquatic species and a healthy environment are of particular interest to Michiganders and the documentaries lined up for this year’s festival are sure to educate and entertain.


  • WORLD PREMIER of Protected Waters: Exploring La Jolla. Join female filmmakers and producers Jennifer Idol and Alex Rose as they dive into the many marine protected areas in Southern California on Saturday, January 27 at 10am at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena. Much like national parks on land, MPAs provide a refuge for nature in the ocean and places for people to enjoy the natural beauty of these ecosystems. California is home to a unique network of 124 MPAs created to protect our valuable ocean resources. Jennifer and Alex were initially drawn to La Jolla because of its Leopard Shark aggregation, but as their travels progressed, they encountered an exciting range of local marine creatures – some expected, some unexpected – but all valuable. They discovered that the region’s MPAs support vastly more species than they set out to film, and that without their protected status, none of this complex marine ecosystem would persist.
  • MICHIGAN PREMIER of RELENTLESS (Running time: 92 minutes. Writer/Director/Producer: Thomas Lindsey Haskin). Narrated by Oscar-winning actor J.K. Simmons, this film tells the fascinating true story about remarkable people tackling an exotic species invasion that nearly destroyed the largest freshwater ecosystem on Earth: the Great Lakes. The silent predator devastated jobs and businesses, threatening the survival of cities, towns and indigenous communities across the region. The film traces how tenacious scientists identified the menace then struggled to control it. Their work continues to influence the Great Lakes region’s economic fortunes and sounds a warning about how invasive species threaten the future of vital natural resources and the prosperity of millions around the world today. This Wednesday, January 24 screening takes place in Rogers City which sits a short drive south of Lake Huron’s Hammond Bay where fishery scientists took up the challenge of controlling sea lamprey at a laboratory that still stands there. The Hammond Bay Biological Station remains the primary US federal laboratory conducting research into methods to control sea lamprey in the Great Lakes. People involved in that fight live in the region—including many who worked there in the 1960s.
  • WORLD PREMIER of Crossing Ontario: The End. Join Emmy award-winning photojournalist and documentary producer Corey Adkins for the latest in his 6-part Paddling the Great Lakes series on Friday, January 26 as part of the Great Lakes Gala Reception & Films, taking place at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena from 6-9pm. Working as a cameraman/producer/director for the non-profit Stand Up for the Great Lakes, Corey has documented the group’s endeavors in crossing the Great Lakes (as well as traversing Michigan’s 50-mile Chain of Lakes Water Trail) in order to raise awareness and funds for these critical natural resources. Corey’s previous films from this series have been shown at the TBIFF and this, the final installment, is the culmination of the group’s 9-year project. With a 25-year video production career, Corey is also the Content/Communications Coordinator for the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.


  • Sanctuary Selections. The first professional film competition at the Thunder Bay Film Festival, solely focused on Great Lakes Content. The theme is “Representing the Great Lakes through Strong Storytelling” with a focus on discovery, authentic experience and human connection. The Top 5 films will be shown on Saturday, January 27 at 6pm at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, when the winner will be announced. This competition is being held in partnership with The Sunset Project—a nonprofit organization focused on investing in creative communities and changing how northeast Michigan views mental health.
  • Student Film Competition. Students in grades 6 through 12 are invited to submit a short film, three minutes or less, related to “Life in the Great Lakes.” There is no entry fee and selected films will be shown at the festival on Saturday, January 27. Submission deadline: January 5, 2024. See attached for details.


  • All Access Thunder Pass – Valid for the entire festival ($125 per person)
  • TBIFF on the Road – Rogers City (Wednesday, January 24, 6-9pm, Rogers Theater. $10 per person)
  • TBIFF on the Road – Harrisville (Thursday, January 25 @ 6pm, Alcona County Library. $10 per person)
  • Great Lakes Gala Reception & Films (Friday, January 26 – Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, 6-9pm. $30 per person includes hors d’oeuvres and dessert, with a cash bar)
  • Sanctuary Selections with The Sunset Project (Saturday, January 27 – Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, 6-9pm. $20 per person includes light snacks, with a cash bar)
  • Programs (Varied times Friday, Saturday & Sunday. $10 per person, per program)

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 4,300 square miles in northwestern Lake Huron and exists to preserve our Great Lakes maritime heritage, including a significant collection of historic shipwrecks. Through innovative, accessible educational programs and community outreach, the sanctuary strives to protect our great lakes for future generations. The sanctuary promotes appreciation and responsible use of Thunder Bay, the Great Lakes and the oceans. Visit the sanctuary at and at