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History on screen at UAS

'Sound and Motion' event screens films from state collections

Posted: February 9, 2013 - 9:46pm  |  Updated: February 10, 2013 - 12:09am

The University of Alaska Southeast’s Egan Lecture Hall was a great place for Alaska history buffs to be Friday night.

Films from the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, the Alaska State Archives and the Alaska State Museum were displayed in the latest installment of the weekly UAS series “Sound and Motion,” entitled “Treasures from the State Film Library.”

The “film festival” was the fourth annual showing of historical films at UAS.

Library assistant Damon Stuebner, who introduced the films, said the archives and museum were consulted on the film selection for the first time, as the library’s space is being brought together with the archives and museum as part of the State Libraries, Archives and Museum project — commonly known by its acronym, SLAM.

“Tonight’s presentation, since we are kind of starting this coming together, instead of normally taking stuff from the State Library, I actually went to our colleagues from the State Archives and State Museum and asked for their recommendations as to what they have in their film and video collections,” Stuebner said.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the SLAM building was held last month. The facility is slated to be complete by April 2016, Stuebner said.

The first film shown at the “Treasures” film festival, “Alaska: Beyond Expectations,” was a 1986 production by the Alaska Division of Tourism, which has since been rolled into the Division of Economic Development as the Office of Tourism Development.

The Alaska State Archives provided the tourism film.

The first part of the film focuses on Southeast Alaska, as well as the cruise ship experience — cruise ships being, both then and now, one of the most popular means for tourists to visit Alaska.

A defining event for the Southeast region, the formation and early history of the Alaska Marine Highway System is featured in the second film that was shown: 1969’s “Good Morning Alaska,” produced by the late Juneau filmmaker Chuck Keen.

The AMHS is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It was officially incorporated in 1963, after several years in which territory- and then state-operated ferries provided limited service in Southeast Alaska.

“There was far more traffic the first year than had been predicted for the fourth year, and by the end of the fourth year, traffic was five times original predictions,” the film’s narrator, Michael Rye, says proudly.

Toward the end of “Good Morning Alaska,” then-Gov. Keith H. Miller speaks for several minutes on the importance of the AMHS, calling the construction of roads or railways to connect communities in Southeast or Southwest Alaska “economically prohibitive” and describing the ferry system “the logical answer” to the regions’ transportation issues.

“The Alaska Marine Highway provides the only fast and efficient transportation for both passengers and vehicles to communities not connected by roads,” Miller goes on to say. “Remember, the ferry system is not just a service. It is a necessary means of access to materials and markets for all Alaskans. We are still in the early morning of development, and the Marine Highway is a big part of our future.”

Stuebner said other versions of “Good Morning Alaska” exist, including some in which former Gov. William Egan speaks about the AMHS instead of Miller.

A third film, “Atka: An Aleutian Village,” was also shown.

A more sober, candid film than the other two, with no narration, “Atka” was made in 1974 by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and provided to the festival by the Alaska State Museum. It portrays an isolated community in the Aleutian Island chain “to present a record of life” in Atka, according to title cards introducing the mini-documentary.

Multiple sequences of animals being hunted, skinned and gutted as part of Aleut villagers’ subsistence lifestyle, prompting some winces and groans from audience members at the film festival. But sequence later in the film showing children happily playing with boxes provided some levity, with viewers laughing as the children sledded down a steep hillside on pieces of cardboard.

Brief public service announcements narrated by renowned voice actor James Earl Jones for the Alaska State Museum in 1990 were also screened as a “bonus” after each film.

To laughter from the audience, Stuebner said there had been a controversy at the time over the state spending money to produce the PSAs.

“The reality is, the state didn’t spend any money,” said Stuebner. “James Earl Jones volunteered his time, did it supposedly all in one take. Obviously, he’s James Earl Jones. The film crew that was up here shooting a nature documentary, it was on their down time, and of course, you know, they had the equipment and everything, so they volunteered their time and equipment. And the TV stations that ran them did it for free, too, because after all, the State Museum is an educational institution and these things are only 10, 15 seconds long.”

The Sound and Motion series continues next Friday with the Woosh Kinaadeiyí poetry slam, which will feature both a noncompetitive open-microphone poetry reading and a competitive event. It will be held in the Egan Lecture Hall at 7 p.m. as well.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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