Bay Street Film Festival is Thunder Bay

Joe Davidow, Kelly Saxberg and Ron Harpelle
Joe Davidow, Kelly Saxberg and Ron Harpelle
Joe Davidow, Kelly Saxberg and Ron Harpelle
Joe Davidow, Kelly Saxberg and Ron Harpelle

THUNDER BAY – Entertainment – The Bay Street Film Festival (BSFF) shows high caliber films in Thunder Bay.  

It is hard to imagine a festival more Thunder Bay than the Bay Street Film Festival. The event has become the film hub of Northwestern Ontario to bring alive the independent film spirit.

It is hard to imagine a festival more Thunder Bay than the Bay Street Film Festival
It is hard to imagine a festival more Thunder Bay than the Bay Street Film Festival

Films, filmmakers and people who love them have come together in a supportive place for five days.

The Bay Street Film Festival ( is in its ninth year.  The festival had a kick-off gala for the first time this year.  Filmmakers, Kelly Saxberg and Ron Harpelle ( are two of the festivals organizers.  Saxberg said “Now we have the gala.  It’s new.  It was amazing with video installations, live music and a chance for everyone to get to meet everybody.”

Over 40 films people wouldn’t otherwise get to see are playing at the festival.  The films vary in lengths, formats and genres from local and international filmmakers.  Filmmakers from around the world have travelled to Thunder Bay to participate in the five day event.

Kelly Saxberg said “This year is really special because we have done a whole bunch of new things.  We had the screening outdoors at the marina.  Last night was pretty magical.  We have more performances and we have such a great film line up.  We have a record number of filmmakers from all over the world.  It’s pretty amazing we have a filmmaker (Phillip Crawford) and one of his actors from Australia.  His film is a youth inspired film playing Sunday called Rites of Passage.”

Amie Williams an independent filmmaker from LA, conducted a master class for about fifty people.  For two hours she shared tips about how to master the completion of a documentary.  Amie said “Do webisodes about your documentary.”  This was only one of many tips she gave. 

Directors who are in town take five minutes to answer questions and provide information about their film.  This allows people the opportunity to learn more about how to make films and about the people behind the films.

A new event this year was “The Talkies” held at Waverley Resource Library.  From outside the room you could hear energized chattered behind the doors. 

Saxberg said “We did The Talkies, which was really cool.  We had lots of filmmakers, film students and members of the public participating.  It was almost like a little speed dating event.  We had modeled it off the Human Book project (  I think there was about 25 people and we just kept going around.  Everyone got to speak with everybody for two hours.  It was really neat.  Everyone really got to know each other.  We had a diversity of people at The Talkies.”

Arne Vainio Ojibway from doctor and director of Walking into the Unknown.
Arne Vainio Ojibway from doctor and director of Walking into the Unknown.

With the expansion of the film event a new variety of films and filmmakers entered the festival. 

Kelly explains “We have an Ojibway doctor (Arne Vainio) from Cloquet, Minnesota who came up here to show his film on health and it showed the festivals diversity.  Arne Vainio is half Ojibway and Finnish. To show his film in the hall is so amazing.  And then we had Love, Sex and Disability by Carlo Basilone.  We had a whole kind of sex theme and it was so great.” 

A number of live themed opening and intermission shows were performed to kick-off each film session. 

Saxberg commented, “Our themes are for the people and we mean that.  We show these films like Finnish films.  The Finnish filmmaker comes and the whole Finnish community comes out to see those films.”

There are a number of new film genres showing this year.  Kelly said “We have lots new.  We have four or five First Nations films in the festival this year and we have reached out to that community.  We reached out to community health interests.  It is why we call it films for the people.”

Organizers for the festival range in age and ethnicity, from youth to seasoned industry filmmakers.  This year the festivals had four summer students helping to plan and manage the event. 

With filmmakers coming in from all over the world to participate in the Bay Street Film Festival and workshops and great films being made in Thunder Bay going out into the world, puts Thunder Bay on the international map. 

Saxberg explains “People say we are isolated and in the middle of nowhere.  People say we are bound by Lake Superior.  In a way we are not. We are part of the big world and the international scene.” 

Bay Street Film Festival (BSFF) is going head on with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).  A lot of people don’t have the time or resources to go to the TIFF.  The BSFF creates the film fest buzz locally. 

International filmmakers who are not showing their films at the TIFF are able to come to Thunder Bay and then head to Toronto to catch a day or two of the event.  It is a win, win situation for everyone.  One of Thunder Bay’s well-known film makers Shayne Ehman is showing one of his feature animated films at the TIFF. 

The BSFF was originally designed to show locally made films.  Saxberg said “We started the festival to show our locally made films to the population here.  Filmmakers could connect. We didn’t think filmmakers from outside of Thunder Bay would be so interested in coming here.  But they come here and they all like it.”

Joe Davidow director of Dreams Deferred-Legacy of American Apartheid
Joe Davidow director of Dreams Deferred-Legacy of American Apartheid

Joe Davidow a filmmaker from the United States has participated in the festival two years in a row. 

“He connects with the audience and the people.  His film played and it was a full house.  That’s the whole thing of filmmakers and community and looking at these really inspiring and great films.” said Saxberg.

With the film festival now going into its teth year, local filmmakers and community support contribute to the success of the event.  Much sponsorship from the Bay Street small business community, partnerships with the City and other organizations and themes like circumpolar films to bring in international films from Moose Factory, Nunavut and Sweden will help to continue to grow the festival into a world and local renowned event. 

The Bay Street Film Festival
The Bay Street Film Festival

Sunday is the last day of the festival to have an opportunity to meet filmmakers and watch a wonderful collection of films.  Day or weekend passes are sold along with a “Friends of Bay Street Film Festival” pass.  The Friend’s Pass will get people into all the BSFF movies throughout the year.  People who purchase the “Friends Pass” will be entered in a draw to win four Jet tickets.

BSFF also got a grant this year from the Ontario Arts Council to host workshops monthly with filmmakers who are screening their films in town, and to send out regional films to Sioux Lookout, Atikokan and Kenora or any other community wishing to host a film screening night. 

Get down to the Bay Street Film Festival for world class entertainment and hosting and check out the Finlandia Embassy Bistro located in the Finlandia Club or as Ron Harpelle is calling it this weekend the  “Arguementorium”. 

Kelly Saxberg said “Ron got the idea from a filmmaker.  After the film you can go to the Embassy and maybe buy a filmmaker a drink and carry on a discussion.  Especially films with these really powerful issues to discuss.”

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