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Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

New for 2024, the Thunder Bay International Film Festival (TBIFF) has partnered with The Sunset Project (TSP), a Northeast Michigan-based non-profit focused on creative advancement, to introduce a unique film competition. The competition offers filmmakers an opportunity to showcase their work and a chance to win the "Sanctuary Selection" title alongside a $5,000 cash prize for their next film.

Tickets Available Now

Interested in attending Sanctuary Selections or Thunder Bay International Film Festival?

Click the button to be redirected to the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary online ticketing portal.

Thunder Bay International Film Festival: 

Every January, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary hosts the Thunder International Film Festival (TBIFF) at several locations throughout Northeast Michigan. Through a longstanding partnership with the International Ocean Film Festival, TBIFF screens nearly 100 ocean and Great Lakes films from around the world. 

The 12th annual TBIFF will take place from January 24-28th, 2024.


The exciting five-day stretch includes social events, educational activities, opportunities to meet filmmakers, and, of course, high-quality films. TBIFF is a growing film festival; TBNMS staff, community partners, and a growing team of volunteers ensure an excellent experience for all attendees. The annual Gala and most film screenings occur at The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, Michigan. This stunning facility provides an excellent backdrop for one of the region's most anticipated events. 


For more information on the TBIFF, please visit: The Thunder Bay International Film Festival Webpage

Sanctuary Selections Film Competition:


Film submissions will be accepted from October 1, 2023, through December 1, 2023. Following the submission window, the Sanctuary Selections Panel will select five films to be showcased at the competition’s evening film block on Saturday, January 27, 2024. This year's Panel is composed of industry professionals, Northeast Michigan community members, and representatives from TBIFF and TSP. The finalists will be selected based on creativity, originality, cinematography, and ability to adhere to the predetermined theme.


The 2024 Sanctuary Selections theme is “Representing the Great Lakes region through strong storytelling - with a focus on discovery, authentic experience, and human connection.”


Filmmakers will be contacted and notified of their film’s status on January 5, 2024. If selected as a finalist, filmmakers (at least one representative) must attend the Sanctuary Selections Competition on Saturday, January 27, 2024, to be eligible for the cash prize. Each of the five finalists will be required to participate in a short Q&A following the screening of their film. At the conclusion of the evening, the winner or official “Sanctuary Selection” will be announced in front of a live audience and presented with a $5,000 check intended to seed new film projects. The winner will be selected by the same panel of representatives used to select the five finalists. The Sanctuary Selections Panel will utilize a rubric to calculate the individual score of each category: creativity, originality, cinematography, and ability to adhere to the predetermined theme. The finalist with the highest cumulative score across the panel will be selected as the winner.


To ease the travel burden for the five finalists, TSP will provide lodging (one room per finalist) for the film festival's Friday and Saturday nights. Finalists are encouraged to attend the Friday night Gala of the festival and experience world-class ocean and Great Lakes films screened throughout the weekend. 


TBIFF and TSP are committed to supporting visionary filmmakers, advancing the art form of film and new media, and engaging communities with cinematic experiences focused around the Great Lakes Region!

Additional Information:


  • Submission Window: October 1, 2023 - December 1, 2023

  • Notification Date: January 5, 2024

  • Thunder Bay International Film Festival: January 26 - 28, 2024 in Alpena, Michigan

  • Sanctuary Selections Film Showcase: Evening of January 27, 2024

Awards & Prizes

  • Sanctuary Selection Award: $5,000 sponsored by The Sunset Project


All selected finalists (five films in total) receive:

  • Two “Thunder Passes”, granting them full access to all TBIFF events throughout the weekend

  • Accommodations (one room per selected film) provided by The Sunset Project for Friday night (January 26) and Saturday night (January 27) in Alpena, Michigan


Rules & Terms:

Film Eligibility Requirements

  • Must range from 5 to 20 minutes in length

  • Must have been released no earlier than March of 2018

  • Must be focused on content from the Great Lakes Region (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ontario)

  • Must adhere to the established theme

  • Must have never previously been shown at the Thunder Bay International Film Festival

  • Filmmakers (or at least one film representative) must be able to attend in person on the evening of Saturday, January 27, 2024


Film types accepted include but are not limited to:


  • Adventure/Exploration Films: These films could showcase individuals or groups embarking on exciting journeys throughout the Great Lakes region. They might highlight the exploration of hidden natural wonders, remote islands, or underwater treasures, capturing the spirit of discovery and the region's beauty.

  • Documentary Films: This theme could inspire documentaries that delve into the Great Lakes region's unique culture, history, and ecology. These films might feature interviews with locals, experts, or historians, offering an authentic perspective on the people, communities, and environmental issues that shape the area.

  • Human Interest Stories: The theme emphasizes the "compelling human element," suggesting films focusing on personal narratives and experiences within the Great Lakes region. These stories could explore the lives of individuals who have overcome challenges, pursued their dreams, or made a significant impact on their communities, revealing the human spirit and resilience.

  • Environmental Films: Given the importance of the Great Lakes ecosystem, films could address environmental concerns and the efforts to preserve and protect the region. They might highlight the impact of pollution, climate change, or invasive species, along with the initiatives and individuals dedicated to safeguarding the natural beauty and resources of the Great Lakes.

  • Historical Drama Films: The Great Lakes region has a rich history, and this theme could lead to films set in different time periods, capturing significant events, struggles, or triumphs from the past. These films might focus on key historical figures, conflicts, or cultural milestones, providing an engaging and educational perspective on the region's heritage.

  • Fictional Stories with Regional Flavor: This theme could also inspire fictional narratives that incorporate the unique characteristics of the Great Lakes region. Films might explore family dynamics, romance, or coming-of-age stories set against the backdrop of small lakeside towns, fishing communities, or urban centers, creating a sense of place and authenticity.

Other Information:

  • Work-in-progress films may be submitted but are juried in the same pool as all other submissions.

  • Entries will be accepted only via online portal submission.

  • No entry fee is required to be eligible for this competition.

  • If filmmakers are interested in submitting a film for the Thunder Bay International Film Festival and wish not to be included in this year’s Sanctuary Selections competition, please contact the Festival Coordinator at 989-884-6212 or

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