By Steven Maier
Michigan State alums and sibling filmmakers Laura and Rob Sams have won Best Engaging Youth Film at the Jackson Hole Film Festival for the second time in their careers
Their short children’s film, “My Haggan Dream,” follows a girl as she learns about the life cycle of the endangered sea turtles of Saipan, the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands in the West Pacific.
“I think we were a bit surprised we won this year because we were up against some really good films,” Laura said.
Laura was there at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming that night to receive the award. She announced the victory with a text to her brother, who had stayed at home in Portland, Oregon, to care for his wife, who would give birth to their second son the next day.
Rob and Laura took an environmental filmmaking class together at Michigan State, taught by former Knight Center director Jim Detjen. Their final project featured a wild turkey and a Ben Franklin impersonator lamenting his country’s choosing of the bald eagle as the national bird. The film was inspired by a letter Franklin wrote to his daughter expressing his preference for the turkey.
The Sams siblings and their company, Sisbro Studios, have won more than 50 international awards since Laura and Rob graduated from Michigan State in 2003. They’ve won first place awards for their youth films at the Wildscreen Film Festival, BLUE Ocean Film Festival and International Wildife Film Festival.
“I feel like we have a knack for reaching young audiences and also appealing to adults,” Laura said.
The two got their start when they turned their cousin’s New York Times-bestselling children’s book, Stranger in the Woods, into a 25-minute film, receiving an award nomination at the Wildscreen Film Festival in Bristol, England. It was there they decided to continue to make children’s nature films
“It seemed like most of the other films in the children’s category were afterthoughts, and they weren’t very well made,” Rob said. “We thought, ‘we can do that.’”
So they opened Sisbro. The two make films, produce videos for Portland nonprofits and perform at schools across the country, showing kids the ins and outs of movie-making. Their latest performance is based on their short film “The Shark Riddle.” It’s complete with a grand-finale inflation of a life-size 23-foot basking shark.
Sisbro is now working alongside the Jim Henson Company, filming segments and writing music for the PBS show “Splash and Bubbles.” The siblings are developing a television program of their own and have a children’s book about sneezing in the works.
Rob and Laura will give a presentation at WKAR studios, housed in Michigan State’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences Building, on January 27 during a one-year celebration of the studio’s 24-hour kids’ channel.