About 100 guests at a party thrown by Trish McDonald had no idea why they were there, but they had plenty of guesses.
Is her sister Maria McDonald moving back home to Dubuque from Austin, Texas? Is she engaged? Pregnant?
No, no and no.
The big announcement was revealed with the arrival of a few 100 Grand candy bars: Maria McDonald will be donating $100,000 as the title sponsor of the 2014 Julien Dubuque International Film Festival.
"It's given a major boost to our third year, and helps us get to where we want to go -- to be a nationally known film festival," said Trish McDonald, a member of the film festival board.
Maria told the crowd about her experience coming home for the festival, which she said was one of the reasons she wanted to support it. "I was blown away," she said. "I was inspired by the board. They are dedicated, they are professional and they do their thing with so much enthusiasm."
Maria, a descendant of A.Y. McDonald, told of her rough past few years: of her home and investment property in Texas being destroyed by wildfires, of her stepson's death and of her survival of a plane crash.
But she mentioned her fresh start, which includes getting into the film industry with a company she recently created: MOmentum Productions.
She is starting with a comedy called "Fug Sweater," but hopes to also make a documentary about her struggles with an insurance company following the loss of her properties in Texas.
She hopes the timing of the donation will make planning for next year easier. "They have it only a few short months after the last film festival so they're not wondering where it's going to come from and how they are going to get it," she said. "They just get to go to work."
Film festival co-executive director Michael Coty thanked Maria and invited the crowd to next year's festival, slated for April 24-27. "The goal for Dubuque is becoming more than just a film festival," Coty said. "It's about really engaging this community and letting everybody tell their story and finding out where it goes. As we continue to grow in Dubuque and we form partnerships and we put Dubuque on the world stage, let us all just think about the partnerships we have yet to encounter, and how we will put Dubuque on the top of the minds of everybody else that comes to visit."