NSI’s Elise Swerhone reports on Thunder Bay’s Bay Street Film Festival

The weekend of September 5 to 7 I had the pleasure of attending The Bay Street Film Festival in Thunder Bay on the spectacular shore of Lake Superior.

Thunder Bay on the shores of Lake Superior

Above: Thunder Bay on the shores of Lake Superior

The festival celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. It was started by a wonderful woman named Kelly Saxberg and she’s still very much the driving force behind the four-day event.

It takes place in the Finnish Labour Temple and celebrates the roots of the community, which was settled by Finns over 100 years ago, with a concentration on films from the circumpolar countries.

Kelly Saxberg (by the exit) in the Old Finn Hall at the screening of Shameless Propaganda

Above: Kelly Saxberg (by the exit) in the Old Finn Hall at the screening of Shameless Propaganda

It’s a nine-hour drive from Winnipeg through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world – a lot of it sparkling lakes, trees, more trees, sparkling lakes, logging trucks, rocks and signs that warn of the danger of moose at night but, alas, no moose. No Hugh Grant either – not even a ‘Hugh Grant at night’ warning.

That’s what makes this festival so special.

It’s like the Gimli Film Festival and the Yorkton Film Festival in that there are very seldom stars like Hugh Grant (alas) or Michael Moore (oh well) or Liam Neeson (sigh) but the filmmakers who do come are passionate, hardworking individuals who have fabulous stories to tell from parts of the world that we rarely hear about. Not a Hollywood moose to be seen.

Instead there are films like Fatal Flower and The Scratch made by Flash Frame Film and Video Network, a local community based organization, shown to a standing-room-only crowd of over 300, many of whom were involved in making the films.

Among the more exotic films shown were I Stop Time (Jag Stannar Tiden) by Swedish filmmaker Gunilla Bresky about a Russian photographer who documented WWII, August Fools made by Finnish filmmaker Taru Makela, and Des Indiens Comme Nous made by French filmmaker Sylvie Jacquemin. All of these filmmakers were in attendance. It was great fun to meet them, drink wine with them and discover all we had in common.

Shameless Propaganda by my husband Bob Lower was also shown and, despite the fact that the film is very Canadian and about the first four years of the NFB, the international filmmakers were fascinated by its history. A history they knew nothing about.

Clarence Fisher

Above: NSI New Voices grad Clarence Fisher

There were a number of budding filmmakers who had heard of NSI and were interested in our courses including NSI New Voices grad Clarence Fisher, who hopes to return to Winnipeg for NSI Aboriginal Documentary.

Everyone hung out together. There was no star system here.

And of course no Hugh Grant either, but hey, I was with my husband.

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