2008-06-07 / Top News

Documentary About Island Winters To Premiere at Mission Point

By Diane Ivey

Peering across a frozen shoreline, filmmaker Mark Rensel captures Mackinac Island's winter wonderland. Five years of winter and 10 years of summer footage comprise "Ice Bridge," a film by Mr. Rensel and his wife, Jenifer Silvernale. The documentary of Island winters premieres Friday, June 6 at Mission Point Resort. (Photograph provided by Mr. Rensel ) Peering across a frozen shoreline, filmmaker Mark Rensel captures Mackinac Island's winter wonderland. Five years of winter and 10 years of summer footage comprise "Ice Bridge," a film by Mr. Rensel and his wife, Jenifer Silvernale. The documentary of Island winters premieres Friday, June 6 at Mission Point Resort. (Photograph provided by Mr. Rensel ) In February, when snow and wind have caught Mackinac Island in the depths of winter, residents wait for one event that will grant them freedom. When Lake Huron freezes between Mackinac Island and St. Ignace, it creates an ice bridge.

Snowmobilers, skiers, and pedestrians are now free to move across the ice bridge, the "highway" marked by Christmas trees that are saved just for this recycled use. No longer dependent on the ferry and plane schedules, it is the one time of the year when Islanders are free to travel whenever they like.

"Ice Bridge," a new film by Mark Rensel and Jenifer Silvernale, captures the Island's hidden winter season, from the gales of November to the first spring thaw.

The documentary, narrated and produced by Ms. Silvernale and filmed and edited by Mr. Rensel, premieres at Mission Point Resort Theatre Friday, June 6 at 9 p.m .

A winter resident for 10 years, Mr. Rensel said he continues to be inspired by Island winters.

Mr. Rensel is from Olympia, Washington, and first came to Mackinac 15 years ago with his wife, Ms. Silvernale, originally from East Lansing, who has been a sign painter for 20 years.

"I'm from the Pacific Northwest, and as a kid, I used to live for snow," he said. "We rarely got any snow, but I always wanted to play in it if we did. I was amazed at how every day could be different in the winter. That was my favorite discovery."

Because they didn't have a snowmobile their first few years here, Mr. Rensel said it allowed him to look at nature up-close, and to see things he normally would have missed.

"Snowmobiling is like flying, and you miss a lot of stuff because you're going so fast," he said. "I would walk or ride my bike, so I was able to study things and stop to film a hole in the ice or to get a shot of snowcovered tree branches."

The filmmakers' goal was to accurately portray life on the Island in the winter. They started filming more than 10 years ago, but put together the most surprising and exciting moments from five of those winters, Mr. Rensel said.

"We portray it chronologically, like it's one winter," he said. "We're trying to portray quieter moments, with almost a sense of aloneness."

The solitude, he said, gives more focus on the Island itself.

"There are people who have lived here their whole lives who say they've never seen some of the things we've filmed," Mr. Rensel said. "It's got a lot of variety, and it's one surprising moment after another. There's even a little bit of suspense in the plot, which was surprising, even to us."

One of the unique moments captured in the video is the formation of a large crack in the

ice bridge. Mr. Rensel recorded the bridge's sounds overnight by running a microphone cable down the boardwalk from their house on Market Street.

"The crack went on for miles, and the sound lasted 20 seconds," he said. "It's moments like this that I don't think anybody's ever captured before."

The hardest obstacle for the filmmakers was making sense of all the footage. Ms. Silvernale said the couple struggled with narration at first, but were guided by other documentaries and several friends and finally settled on a kind of "omnipresent guide," a voice that's reminiscent of a friend standing next to you.

"We wanted to avoid sounding like a travelogue or a commercial," Mr. Rensel said. "It's a soft voice, showing our decision to stay for the winter and what we encountered."

Ms. Silvernale said her favorite thing about the winter is the way everyone bands together to weather the storms.

"The town turns into a small community, and you can really form some neat friendships," she said.

People can purchase the video at Island gift shops after June 6.

Tickets for the premier at Mission Point Resort are $6.

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