Saturday, December 07, 2013

AIFF 2013: Icebound - Alaska Themed Doc Opens Festival

Watching Icebound credits

Icebound was a great film to open the festival.  It took on an Alaskan legend - the dog sled run to Nome to bring diphtheria serum to save dying children.

Dan Anker, the film maker,  was there and after the film was joined by a number of Alaska Native elders and other Alaskans who helped advise him on aspects of the film and also were in the film.

The audience was made up of Alaskans who knew many of the people in the film.  Dan said that he had wanted to first show the film in the villages and towns they visited, but they couldn't get funding for that.  But they did get funding to bring many of the villagers into Anchorage.  I met a woman before the showing who proudly told me that her grandfather was in the movie.
Festival Founder Tony Sheppard Introducing Icebound

There were several movies and themes going at once.  There was the story of the diphtheria epidemic in Nome and how the serum got delivered by dog sled relay style in temperatures, at times, below -50˚F (-45˚C).

It told the story of the burgeoning air industry and the Fairbanks editor who wanted to use the serum run to show the superiority of his planes over the dogs.  And while the planes never left Fairbanks and the dogs delivered the serum, planes soon were a major force in roadless Alaska.

Dan Anker with Alaskan Elders at Post Show Q&A

It told the story of how the national media took on this race to save the children of Nome from diphtheria and sensationalized it.  How the real hero dog was Togo, but how one musher borrowed dogs from another musher, including a second stringer - Balto - and then mushed past the town where he was supposed to hand over the serum to the next musher.  Instead, Balto and another dog named Fox, led the team to Nome.  But a reporter thought Fox would confuse people so he picked Balto as the hero.

It told the story of racial segregation and prejudice and speculated why a number of previous epidemics that in some cases wiped out Alaska Native villages were not covered in the national media - in this case a news story argued that Alaska Natives threatened the white population with diseases.  Of course, the complete opposite was the case - whites brought diseases to Alaska that the native population had no immunity against.  It was suggested that this story caught the national attention because white children were being stricken.

It also told a story about the making of myths and the infallibility of memory and how the press adjust the story to fit their needs.

Paul Ongtooguk
And it told these stories with historical documents, news accounts, interviews with the children and grandchildren of the mushers who carried the serum and historians.  There were also interviews with a few surviving children who were inoculated with the serum that got to Nome.  In fact, one survivor was in the audience.

Questions about the extent to which Anker adjusted the newspaper images to fit the cinematic needs, brought an adamant reply that every document was real, and the only tampering was to improve the image quality of some of the digital documents they received.  Paul Ongtooguk, originally from Nome and now a Professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage said that Anker's attention to accuracy at times became annoying, but they came to appreciate it.
After movie party

The film got an enthusiastic welcome from the audience.  I was fully involved and waiting to see what was going to happen next, even though I and everyone else, knew the basic story.  And many people - in the Q&A - expressed surprise at how the film told a story so different from the one they'd learned at school.  This could not have been an easy film to make.  The recreation of the dog sledding at night in rural Alaskan villages you can only get to by dog sled or air, must have been both expensive and difficult.  But Anker started off by saying he'd never been anywhere where the people were more warm and welcoming than Alaska, and you could see the affection his team of Alaskans had for him.

I need some time, and perhaps a second look, to see how much my enjoyment of the film was affected by the home town crowd and seeing people I know fairly well up on the big screen.  It shows again Saturday (today) at the Inlet Towers hotel at 1 pm and Dan Anker will be there too. 

Bear Tooth crowd mingling after the film
Dan will be showing another of his films - Imaginary Witness - Tuesday night at the Alaska Jewish Museum.  Imaginary Witness looks at how Hollywood portrayed the Holocaust at the time and later. This is not part of the festival, but, I was told, seemed a fitting thing to do.  I'll post a video I made of Anker in the very noisy Bear Tooth lobby after Icebound about


No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.