WATCH — Viewers huddle under the tent set up at Mattson Lower Harbor Park to take in a screening at the festivals first night.
WATCH — Viewers huddle under the tent set up at Mattson Lower Harbor Park to take in a screening at the festival’s first night.
Dallas Wiertella

Feel a wave of emotions at the Fresh Coast Film Festival

Seventh annual film celebration returns to Marquette.

The tent was packed. A sea of puffer jackets and pompoms meet the eye as you scan the space. People are mingling and chatting up a storm, but the room suddenly falls silent as the lights dim and the screen brightens. 

The seventh annual Fresh Coast Film Festival began on Thursday, Oct. 18 at Mattson Lower Harbor Park. This year featured 85 films from artists across the nation. Though the event is now widely known in the film community, its humble beginnings lie closer to home. 

“It started with me, Aaron Peterson and Bill Thompson. We all met at Third Street Bagel and the two of them brought me on,” co-founder Bugsy Sailor said. 

Modeled after film festivals in the western part of the country, the founding trio knew they wanted to bring a similar event to the area. Thus, the Fresh Coast Film Festival was born. 

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Focused on celebrating the beauty, resilience, lifestyles and spirit of the Great Lakes region, Fresh Coast searches high and wide for examples of environmental and cultural filmmaking to create a space where sharing meaningful stories is the focal point. 

“Especially through Aaron, he really preaches this idea of storytelling and keeping storytelling alive, the craft of storytelling from old to new and encouraging that culture,” Sailor said. “So, we want to encourage a new generation to capture stories, document stories and create a culture of filmmaking.” 

The four-day festival kicked off with a free family-focused bluegrass concert, film showings, an awards ceremony and food available from Marquette food trucks. Participants could spread out on the grass with blankets at Mattson Lower Harbor Park starting at 5 p.m. to enjoy the festivities. 

AWARDS — Filmmakers accept awards at the first night of the festival. (Dallas Wiertella)

Friday and Saturday began bright and early with a number of outdoor tours running from 8 to 10 a.m., led by volunteers. There were 13 tours for festival goers to choose from, ranging from hikes, rock climbing, paddles on the water, yoga, walking tours and even the chance to catch a sunrise with Sailor. 

Starting at 10 a.m., festival goers could choose from a list of six films. Each one was shown at a different location in downtown Marquette, including Ore Dock Brewing Co., Blackrock’s Brewery, the Peter White Public Library and a number of rooms in the Masonic Building. 

Then, another set of showings began at noon, and another at 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 7.p.m. Festival goers could meet at Mattson Lower Harbor Park for special showings and an afterparty at Ore Dock Brewing Co. 

The festival wrapped up Sunday with more outdoor tours from 8 to 10 a.m. Showings began at 10 a.m. and noon, with the final showings at 2 p.m.

You may ask, if I choose one film from a list of six at the time of each showing, how do I see all the films? The short answer is that you simply can’t see all the films. 

“There’s so much film content that it’s impossible to see it all,” Sailor said. “We dub it as kind of a ‘choose your own adventure’ festival. We encourage people to really look over the films and schedule and figure out what you want to attend.”

RISE AND SHINE — People had the chance to wake up early on Friday and Sunday of the festival to catch a sunrise with Bugsy Sailor. Sailor has been chasing sunrises for the past five years. (Molly Birch)

Over the course of the weekend, the festival featured content ranging from documentaries to experimental films. Fresh Coast is a documentary and nonfiction-based festival, but organizers say there’s sure to be something for everyone. 

“It’s certainly a hodgepodge, we’re a pretty loose organization, and we want to stay that way,” Sailor said. “But we do have a formal submission process through FilmFreeway where anybody can submit a film.”

A good portion of the films at Fresh Coast come from this formal submission process, though the organization has a couple tricks up their sleeve for finding the content that best fits the festivals’ goals. 

“Over the years we’ve created a lot of relationships with filmmakers, so we have a lot of returning filmmakers,” Sailor said. “Throughout the year we always keep our eye out, just for any interesting films that might be a good fit for Fresh Coast.” 

Matthew Wagner, a filmmaker, traveled from downstate Michigan for the festival. He says students looking into filmmaking should not be afraid to put themselves out there. The easiest way to be a filmmaker, in Wagner’s mind, is to make a film. 

“You don’t have to have a budget, you don’t even have to have a nice camera. That’s what I did,” Wagner said. “I had another film in the festival last year, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I had a client, and he said ‘hey, do you wanna make it a little longer?’ and I said, ‘cool let’s make it a little short documentary.’ I think they paid me like $300. I went all in on it and thought, ‘well this is my chance to make something interesting.’”

CAPTIVATED — Festival goers catch a screening at Blackrock’s Brewery. (Dallas Wiertella)

Wagner says the biggest hurdle keeping people from filmmaking is that people get stuck in their head, overthinking their abilities and the project itself. He recommends students who want to break into the industry take it one step at a time. 

“Find something and get out there. That first one’s going to suck no matter what, but once you get into that practice you start to learn a lot about it,” Wagner said. “I’m on my fourth documentary now, and I feel like I have a little bit more of a voice and a style. Just get out there and do it.” 

Showing films from 85 artists can come with many logistical responsibilities. Fresh Coast is an entirely volunteer based organization, so the festival relies on volunteers to run. Northern Michigan University has been a sponsor of the festival since year one, and students are encouraged to participate however they choose. 

“Students can get involved in every way, from filmmaking and getting in touch with us to volunteering,” Sailor said. “Most of our outdoor tours are led by NMU students and that’s a tradition we’ve had going back several years now.” 

One student, back volunteering for his second year, says the spirit of the festival is what brought him back. 

“I think it really showcases this community and how vibrant it is, where something this big and successful can happen in Marquette,” Junior Nursing Student Thomas Chicka said. “It’s really exciting.” 

Chicka says Fresh Coast is the perfect opportunity for students to get involved in the Marquette community.  

“It’s really easy, and if you volunteer for more than two sessions you get a free pass for the whole weekend and you can go see all the movies,” Chicka said. “It’s a great experience, you get volunteer hours, and you get to meet people and have networking opportunities.”

PACKED TO THE BRIM — The Fresh Coast Film Festival had special showings under the tent at Mattson Lower Harbor Park on Friday and Saturday. (Dallas Wiertella)

Since its founding and through hard times, the event has become more than just a film festival. It’s a film celebration. 

“Now, what I really enjoy, there’s always surprises each year, great content every year, but it’s also turned into a bit of a reunion,” Sailor said. “We have filmmakers that come back every year, attendees that come back every year, volunteers that come back every year, so it’s really nice that it is becoming the Fresh Coast Family.” 

Sailor says this festival is all about making people think about their effect on their surroundings, with nature and outdoor living being key topics of the festival content. 

“I hope that we can make everybody cry, everybody laugh and everybody think. We want people to experience the range of emotions, especially all the films that are really quirky subjects about all the different ways you can experience the outdoors,” Sailor said. 

The seventh annual Fresh Coast Film Festival may come from humble beginnings at Third Street Bagel, but the founders say its focus on celebrating the spirit of the Great Lakes region sets it apart from other festivals of its kind. 

Fresh Coast will return next fall with a new lineup of films and activities for all to enjoy. 

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