Bonney Lake Historical Society plans wildlife film festival

The Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society is hoping for a little movie magic as they plan for the launch of new film festival they hope will become an annual event in the city.

The inaugural Milotte Film Festival, named after the Oscar-winning couple that once lived in what is now the Sky Island neighborhood, is scheduled for October with the hopes of becoming a destination for wildlife and nature filmmakers from around the world.

“There’s not a lot of film festivals that feature only wildlife films,” said councilman and historical society member Mark Hamilton, who came up with the idea of doing a festival to celebrate the contribution made to the city and the industry by Alfred and Emma Milotte.

According to the Milotte Scholarship website, Alfred and Emma began filming and lecturing in Alaska in the 1940s. Following World War II, Walt Disney saw one of the couple’s lectures and commissioned them to return to Alaska to film “Seal Island,” which won the 1946 Academy Award for Best Short Subject.

The film launched Disney’s “True Life Adventure” series, which Hamilton remembers watching as a young man growing up in Bonney Lake.

Hamilton said he was fascinated by the series, which took viewers all around the world, showing them images of places and animals that at the time were only visible in zoos and in picture books.

The Milottes went on to win a total of six Academy Awards, filming wildlife from Alaska to the Florida Everglades to Africa and beyond. Their work was shown in both theatrical release and on television through Disney’s weekly program.

“They were pioneers,” Hamilton said.

The couple eventually retired to a 160-acre piece of land in what is now Bonney Lake. Their home sat on a ridge and offered stunning views west all the way to Puget Sound and east to Mount Rainier.

“They called their house their island in the sky,” said historical society president Dennis Dhaese, adding that the area is still known as Sky Island today.

Dhaese said the Milottes are not particularly well known in the area and said the film festival is a good way to re-introduce the couple and their work to modern residents of the city they called home.

Hamilton, who grew up in Bonney Lake, agreed and said he did not know who the Milottes were until recently, even as an avid viewer of “True Life Adventures.”

This year’s inaugural festival will feature two of the Milottes’ award-winning films, “Seal Island” and “The Story of an Alaskan Grizzly Bear,” as well as one modern wildlife film. There will also be exhibits from the Milotte family, such as the telegram the couple received from Disney after winning an Oscar and photos of the couple with film stars of their era, such as Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn.

Dhaese said a nephew of the couple has also been contacted and should be on hand to talk some about his aunt and uncle and their work.

After this year, the hope is that the festival will become an annual event that will feature wildlife films.

“I’m hoping it becomes a full-fledged film festival,” Hamilton said.

“Hopefully this is going to grow into something more,” said Dhaese. “It’s starting a new tradition we hope endures and grows into an annual event we can be proud of in Bonney Lake.”

The hope is that nature filmmakers will eventually travel to Bonney Lake to show their films. The Historical Society is presently seeking sponsors to raise the $2,250 they need for the event.

“It’s a big deal,” Hamilton said. “It’s going to be great for the city and a lot of fun.”

The inaugural Milotte Film Festival is scheduled for Oct. 20. A venue has not yet been announced.