Lighting Up the Marquee in Marquette
Fresh Coast Film Festival celebrates the best of northern Michigan’s outdoors
By Ross Boissoneau | Oct. 9, 2021
The Upper Peninsula, like this region, has always attracted people to its natural beauty.
It has also inspired filmmaker Aaron Peterson, store owner Bill Thompson and U.P. influencer Bugsy Sailor to create the first-ever Fresh Coast Film Festival in Marquette, devoted (mostly) to documentaries telling tales from around the Great Lakes.
“Not Marquette, not Michigan – we wanted to highlight the Great Lakes, build a culture of storytelling,” says Sailor, who also owns U.P. Supply Company, a Marquette-based store.
All three say their love of the outdoors prompted them to pool their talents and interests. The Fresh Coast Film Festival has been held every year since the first event in 2016, with the exception of last year.
Sailor says this year’s return will be scaled back slightly but will still feature more than 100 films, mostly shorts, organized by category. “They could go from birdwatching to surfing the Great Lakes to mountain biking,” Sailor says.
He says the films’ broad range of themes and subject matter engage audiences in adventure, humor, sympathy, reflection and more. “There really is something for everyone,” he says.
While documentaries focus on, around and about the region, that’s not a hard-and-fast rule.
For example, one of the films included in this year’s festival comes from Frankfort filmmaker Emily Hopcian, a writer, editor and content producer. It’s the story of Durga Rawal, one of the only female guides in Nepal and the only guide from her village in northern Nepal.
“I'm excited and incredibly honored to have a film screening at this year's festival, as it's a festival that feels like home in so many different ways to me,” she says.
Also hailing from this region are films by professional skier Mike King of King Orchards of Central Lake and one about the Leelanau Conservancy by brothers Nick and Chris Loud (see sidebar).
Despite the documentary focus, particularly from and on the Great Lakes region, Sailor says the organizers always have a plethora of potential entries from which to choose.
“We never have a shortage of content,” says Sailor.
In spite of last year’s cancellation, the festival continues to grow. “It’s become a marquee weekend in Marquette,” Sailor notes, estimating there were more than 1,000 in attendance for the 2019 version.
He says he would like to bring a wider range of people to town. “We want to bring in (more) people from Duluth, Green Bay and Traverse City,” he says. And, he says, there’s more to come in terms of ideas and events.
“We have lots of ideas yet to be unboxed,” he says. “One dream is to do a traveling show, go to places like Traverse City with a night of Fresh Coast.
“(Doing) things year-round throughout Marquette is a big goal.”
Virtual content is also in the works, with the online version of the festival available Oct. 17, he says.
One of the festival’s hallmarks is the fact many of the filmmakers are in attendance.
“We try to get as many as we can in town,” he says, adding there may be 60 this year.
Organizers have included outdoor activities, so that attendees can interact with the landscapes they see on screen.
Rock climbing, yoga, waterfall hikes and mountain bike rides will all be offered as part of the Fresh Coast weekend, which takes place in venues throughout the city.
“Breweries, the Masonic lodge; this year we’ll have a tent at the harbor,” says Sailor.
Sailor says the volunteer-run festival takes a huge commitment from a number of people, and that he and the other founders are grateful to the community for its support. There are no stars in attendance, but there might be the U.P. version of a red carpet, he says. “We joke it would be hunter orange,” he says.
The Fresh Coast Film Festival in Marquette runs Oct. 14-17. For schedule, tickets and more information, visit freshcoastfilm.com.
Locals Show Their Stuff at Fresh Coast
They may be familiar with it, but Nick and Chris Loud don’t ever take appearing at the Fresh Coast Film Festival for granted.
“We’ve been lucky enough to go up the last four times,” says Nick Loud. “We’ve fallen in love with the town (and) the festival.”
The brothers are the creative brain trust behind The Boardman Review journal but can now call themselves film producers.
Together, they produced the four-minute film Leelanau Conservancy – Farmland Protection. It tells how the conservancy works with farmers to preserve their land, the environment and a way of life that has defined the region for over a century.
The film explains the Conservancy’s purpose, which is putting conservation easements on certain farms to protect them from development.
“Tom Nelson (the Leelanau Conservancy’s executive director) highlights what it means for farmers to protect something that has been part of their lives for decades and know it will continue,” says Nick Loud, who highlights a couple of local farms in the film. “We tried to capture their hearts and thought process.”
Nick Loud says the brothers’ films are typically part of a block of similar short films.
Following the showing, the filmmakers usually take part in a Q&A session. Then they’re able to become part of the audience for the other presentations.
“We go see a film, go for a hike, go for a beer,” he says. “The colors should be at their peak.”
As the festival has grown, Nick Loud says he’s pleased to see a growing contingent of attendees from this region.
“It’s an opportunity to share, especially with more Traverse City folks,” he says.
The Louds are not alone in sharing their film talents as they pertain to the natural world. Mike King – of the King Orchard family– has a film that also takes a close look at the environment.
A professional skier, he’s worked with numerous film companies and sponsors to create video content for marketing.
His film, Feast or Famine, takes a different tack, exploring how climate change impacts everything.
“If I was going to make my own film, I was going to make it about what I think is most important: climate change,” he says.
King says what humans do for pleasure, work, food and water are all affected by a changing climate.
After some time away, King is now full-time in Michigan. “I think it took some time away to realize how special it was,” says King.