Alaska in film is often ominous: intriguing and beautiful, but deadly. Alaska-based film and television productions understandably use the theme of person versus nature. (Well, that or bears splashing in a salmon stream to happy music.) “Deadliest Catch,” “Into the Wild,” “Runaway Train,” even “Limbo” touch on this idea.
But to Alaskans, there is much more to our wilderness than the threat of death. Sure, Alaska can kill us any number of ways. You can fall off a cliff or crash a small plane. But most Alaskans will die of old age. So cheating death isn’t the main point of our “struggles” with Alaska’s environment.
“Wildlike” a film under production this summer in Alaska, offers a more nuanced view, one in which the Alaskan wilderness is seen as a positive force. Schuyler Weiss, a producer of “Wildlike” with Tandem Pictures, provided a synopsis, which goes something like this:
“A struggling mother sends her troubled daughter Mackenzie to her uncle in Juneau, Alaska. The uncle is trouble and Mackenzie runs away. She tries to get to mom in Seattle, but winds up deeper into Alaska’s interior. McKenzie ends up following and forming an unlikely bond with a loner backpacker named Bartlett. Together, they discover sanctuary and redemption in Alaska’s wilderness.”
Sure, nitpickers will point out the difficulty of ending up in Alaska’s interior trying to go south from Juneau to Seattle, but the nitpickers would be missing the point.
Weiss puts it well: “Alaska represents a place to escape to, and escape into, for our two protagonists... Alaska is a place of natural wonder on such a scale that it gives true perspective to the characters’ lives and their personal challenges. It is the redemptive force in the film.”
Nice. Finally, a film that will depict an Alaska Alaskans might relate to; where our wilderness is a place of growth, not a place to die.
This is the Alaska I know, where the environment allows us to find ourselves. Alaska is a giant reset button, cold to the touch. Alaska is a place to reformulate the alchemy of who you are. Alaska is a place where Harvard PhDs live remotely off the land and high school drop-outs become millionaires. Alaska is the lost and found bin for misplaced souls. Alaska is for, as Weiss says, “redemption.”
So Alaska isn’t easy, but it is worth it.
This adage also applies to shooting a film in Alaska.
“We have had to be extremely meticulous in our planning due to the distances involved in shipping anything to and from Alaska,” Weiss said.
Further, Alaskan business may lack materials a production might need. Future productions will benefit as local businesses gain experience, and inventory, from current productions.
Finding actors in Alaska can also pose challenges.
“Alaskan actors could also use a little more support with more casting directors and some local talent reps,” Weiss said.
A quick review of the Internet Movie Database reveals the “Wildlike” folks found Teddy Kyle Smith. Smith played the dad in “On the Ice” and was the best thing in that movie. The man can hold a scene by its neck. I’m excited to see Smith will be in another movie.
Despite the challenges (and beyond the draws of the scenery and Teddy Kyle Smith), Weiss has found that Alaska is worth it, in part because of Alaskans themselves.
“(There is) tremendous enthusiasm for film in Alaska … people have gone out of their way to accommodate us and make our film possible,” he said. “You have a very rich environment for filmmaking.”
The production will be coming to the very wet environment of Juneau as early as next week. Weiss’s description of Juneau makes me want to live there: “Juneau is such a fascinating city, with an inherent drama of its own -- hemmed in by sea and mountains, the atmosphere is naturally cinematic.”
The production may need extras in Juneau too. Weiss said interested people can contact them through their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Wildlike.
I am happy to see New York production companies, Green Machine Films and Tandem Pictures, shoot a film in Alaska. They will hire locals and spend money on Alaskan businesses for food, lodging, equipment, vehicles, shipping and travel. They will shoot a story of young woman who will use her wits to overcome obstacles and discover her true self and strength. Above all, they will present Alaska as more than a place simply to survive, but a place to heal and a place to thrive.
“Wildlike” is scheduled for release in 2013.
* Clint Farr can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.