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Extracting truth from myth

Gold Town to screen local premiere of 'Icebound," a historical account of the events depicted in 'Balto'

Posted: December 12, 2013 - 1:07am
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Gunnar Kaasen poses in 1925  with his original dog team, which he drove through a blinding blizzard to deliver life-saving serum Nome, Alaska. Kaasen's lead dog Balto is shown in the top row, second from left.   the associated press
the associated press
Gunnar Kaasen poses in 1925 with his original dog team, which he drove through a blinding blizzard to deliver life-saving serum Nome, Alaska. Kaasen's lead dog Balto is shown in the top row, second from left.

The 1925 dog-team serum run to Nome is one of Alaska’s best-known stories. So famous, it’s been retold in countless formats, including a full-length animated feature called “Balto.” But like many famous stories, the facts might be difficult to tease out from amid the exaggerations of fiction and decades of media hype.

Now filmmaker Daniel Anker has reclaimed this famous story in a documentary called “Icebound.” The film, which premiered at last week’s Anchorage Film Festival, will be shown in Juneau this week at the Gold Town Nickelodeon. Anker will be in town for tonight’s 7 p.m. debut showing.

In addition to telling this legendary story to a modern adult audience (see review in this week's Arts), Anker’s film provides a look at how “myth making” can significantly alter the way history is remembered. Anker spent more than eight years on the project, interviewing Alaskans in the villages of Nenana, Galena, Unalakleet and Nome, among other places, talking with elders and the descendants of the original mushers, some of whom attended the film’s premiere in Anchorage. Also at the premiere was the last surviving diphtheria victim from the epidemic, Jirdis Baxter.

In bringing neglected facts to light, Anker highlights the overlooked role of Alaska Natives in this story, pointing up the impacts of racism in media coverage of the event at the time.

Those interviewed for the film include descendants of mushers George Attla, Dan Seavey, Howard Farley and Richard Burmeister; journalists Michael Carey, Dermot Cole and Craig Medred; historians Paul Ongtooguk, Stephen Haycox, Dirk Tordoff, Matt Ganley, Joan Antonson, Neal Gabler, and many others.

The film was produced along the original trail, which extends from Nenana to Nome.

The film had its European premiere at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam, and will be shown in other European locations this summer.

Anker’s prior films include “Imaginary Witness,” “Music from the Inside Out,” and “Scottsboro: An American Tragedy.”

Funding for the project came through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as from The Rasmuson Foundation, The Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance, The Atwood Foundation, The Alaska Humanities Forum, The Bering Straits Native Corporation, Dr. Mary Totten, the Gottstein Family Foundation, and Gana-A’Yoo Ltd.

For more on the local screening, visit www.goldtownnick.com.

To read a review of the film, see this week’s Arts section.

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