Movies, books and plays often shine a light on unrecognized or unaddressed problems in our society. By giving a voice to victims and those who are vulnerable, these media can have a profound impact on our understanding of issues and awaken our resolve to effect meaningful change.
It is no secret that Alaska has long been plagued by a high incidence of violence against women. According to the 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey, 37.1 percent of Alaska women have experienced sexual violence. From 2003 to 2009, the rate of forcible rape in this state was 2.6 times higher than the national average.
These are uncomfortable statistics. But reversing them is only possible if they are first acknowledged and confronted.
Gov. Sean Parnell is taking a comprehensive approach to stopping the epidemic of sexual violence in Alaska, and he has made it a priority of his administration. His Choose Respect campaign aims to erase the fear, shame and despair that accompany sexual violence and replace it with hope and opportunity.
An upcoming movie being filmed in Alaska works toward this end. “The Frozen Ground” recounts actual events that occurred in and around Anchorage. Between 1973 and 1983, serial killer Robert Hansen murdered between 17 and 21 women.
Alaska State Trooper Glenn Flothe is credited with building the case to arrest Hansen. However, it was the escape and testimony of one of Hansen’s victims — Cindy Paulson — that ultimately led to his arrest. He took a plea deal on 12 of the murders and is currently serving life plus 416 years in the Spring Creek Correctional Facility in Seward.
Although Hansen’s actions and the circumstances of his victims will be depicted in the film, its emphasis is not on the crimes. Writer-director Scott Walker became interested in telling the story because it largely focuses on two people who overcame prejudice, fear and other difficulties to put an end to Hansen’s horrific spree.
Walker is specifically interested in shining a light on the plight of young people on the street, sometimes referred to as “disposable youth.” His script incorporates the victim’s viewpoint based on many hours of interviews with Paulson. Her cooperation alone validates that it is time for the story to be told and to acknowledge those who never had the chance to tell their story.
Principal photography on the film, which stars Nicolas Cage and John Cusack, begins in October. Spending in Alaska is anticipated to be near $19 million. Local film production company, Piksik LLC, is attached to the project. More than 100 Alaskans are expected to work on the film, with projected wages totaling $3.5 million. In keeping with the growing film industry here in Alaska, other economic benefits, based on lodging, food, transportation and support services will also be realized. But, in the final analysis, the economic benefits may be tangential to the opportunity for social catharsis.
In a recent visit to Anchorage, the production team expressed an interest in highlighting and supporting community programs to aid women and youth on the street. The Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) shelter, Covenant House for homeless teens, Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) agency, and Parnell’s “Choose Respect” initiative were among the programs that were discussed.
Aspects of the story of “The Frozen Ground” may be difficult and disconcerting to us all. But the benefits of the production to Alaska, both socially and economically, cannot be denied. The courage of Paulson and the dedication Flothe and other law enforcement officials will leave the audience with a hopeful message of lives transformed by courage and caring. In honor and respect to all of the lives touched by the madness of Hansen, their story needs to be told.
• Ayers is the director of the Alaska Division of Economic Development, which operates the Alaska Film Office.