Free Historical Society Film Festival Honors Wildlife Documentary Work of Bonney Lake Couple

The late Alfred and Elma Milotte were instrumental in helping Walt Disney produce many of his award-winning wildlife films in the 40s and 50s, under his True Life Adventure series. Learn more at the Milotte Film Festival, Oct. 20 at the Bonney Lake Just

Those who appreciate fine documentary filmmaking along with the wonders of the natural world probably marveled at the precise detail and color of National Geographic's Planet Earth series, which was released a few years ago.

If you've a hardier long-term memory, you might also recall that a half century earlier, Walt Disney was already producing this type of globe-trotting, education-entertainment with his studio's True Life Adventure series, and picking up several Academy Awards thanks in part to the footage provided by Alfred and Elma Milotte, a couple who settled in Bonney Lake in 1958 and who lived here until their deaths in 1989.

The Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society is honoring this couple through a free film festival showcasing highlights of their work that takes place next Saturday, Oct. 20 at the Bonney Lake Justice Center.

What's the big deal?

In an era before computers, the Internet or even digital photography, the Milottes were pioneers in wildlife cinema photography. The fact that they died within five days of the other passing further adds to the grand and romantic aura that their legacy now takes on.

According to GBLHS member and author of “Bonney Lake’s Plateau”, Winona Jacobsen, as reproduced in this Local Voices blog by Fred Jacobsen:

For fifty-five years they were constant companions in all that they did. Beginning new careers, exploring new horizons, suffering the dangers of wild animal encounters, the terrors of the Mau Mau uprising in Africa, the accolades of their peers, and the ultimate award for cinematography, the six Academy Awards for their world wide works is a chronicle of an amazing and enduring love story.

Alfred and Elma Milotte shared their lives with us through stories, films, paintings, lectures, and friendships. Bonney Lake’s cultural heritage is a bit richer because they chose to spend the last thirty years of their lives on Elhi Hill at their Island in the Sky.

Their 'Island in the Sky,' according to documents in the Milotte Collection held by the Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society, was a 4,000-square-foot home and studio sited on their 120-plus acres on the top of Elhi Hill that afforded them the opportunity to continue working on their craft and getting involved in their new community after retiring from Disney.

They helped to produce a key scene for Alfred Hitchcock in the movie, The Birds. With his background in art, Alfred had several art shows at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle and then the Handforth Art Gallery in Tacoma in the 70s. Both made regular visits on the lecture circuit, sharing their adventures with a variety of groups including schoolchildren at White River School District.

The couple penned several children's books including “The Story of the Platypus”, “The Story of the Hippopotamus”, and “Toklat, the story of an Alaskan Grizzly Bear." Alfred sat on the board at University of Puget Sound and was a founding board member of Northwest Trek.

The Milottes established a tree farm on their property and logged it sustainably. In their lifetime, they agreed to sell 10 acres to Bonney Lake to expand its watershed of Grainger Springs. The town was to change the name of Grainger Springs to Milotte Springs, according to documents in the Milotte Collection held by the Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society and confirmed by former Mayor Steve Flaherty, who signed the document. That has yet to happen.

The film festival, however, isn't about politics. It's a celebration of the couple's work with the Disney Company, which honored them as legends in 1998. Three Academy Award-winning films are scheduled for showing: Seal Island, Bear Country and Beaver Valley; there will also be artifacts from the Milotte collection that were donated this year to the GBLHS and have not as yet been seen in public.

The event takes place between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the Justice Center.

The festival is FREE to everyone but donations will be accepted to help defray the expenses for the festival and to assist GBLHS in its efforts to preserve the recently received collection of Milotte memorabilia.

All children must be accompanied by a responsible adult. There will be a costume contest and prizes will be awarded.

Here is the movie schedule:


First Showing

Second Showing

Seal Island

11:25 am

1:45 pm

Bear Country

12:00 pm

2:20 pm

Beaver Valley

12:40 pm

3:00 pm





After First Showing

After Second Showing

Animal Costume Contest

1:15 pm

3:40 pm

Please note these times are subject to change.

For more information, visit the festival website at www.mwlff.org.

Meanwhile, follow Fred Jacobsen's fascinating Local Voices series looking into the life and adventures of Alfred and Elma Milotte:

Lauren Padgett October 12, 2012 at 12:40 AM
This film festival is going to be fantastic.. what an awesome story. Make sure to visit the festival website at www.mwlff.org and look for the trivia questions and win a prize from the Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society!
Winona Jacobsen October 12, 2012 at 03:02 AM
The "Island in the Sky", so named by the Milottes, included not only the 4000 square foot home and studio, but also the more than 120 acres of land that it sat on, according to documents in the Milotte collection. Alfred and Elma travelled throughout the country giving lectures and presenting slides and films of their world wide assignments for the Walt Disney Studios, according to documents in the Milotte collection. Again according to documents in the Milotte collection, one of the stipulations in the sale of the ten acres at Grainger Springs was the Town of Bonney Lake would rename the springs to Milotte Springs. Although the idea of a film festival to commemorate the works of these pioneers of wildlife cinema photography began more than a year ago, we have a far better understanding of the immense influence that the Milottes had on the world stage. Their story, as presented in the blog articles that have run for the past several weeks, comes from information gathered from the collection that was donated to the Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society earlier this year. So far, just a fraction of the collection has been examined. It is our goal to preserve the photos, films, documents and objects for the benefit of the public, but it will take time and donations to the non-profit Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society to make it possible.


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