Traffic, time stop to film scene for civil rights documentary

Producer expects to work through the year to put the film together for distribution nationally

Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2006

Elizabeth Peratrovich's walk up the Capitol steps in Juneau more than 60 years ago was important enough for Diane Benson to follow in her footsteps Friday.

"It's an honor to represent someone so important to our people," Benson said before putting up her hair in the fashion of 1945 to recreate the scene from the life of Peratrovich, who with her husband fought for Native rights.

In addition to starring in the one-woman play she authored about Peratrovich, Benson is recreating scenes from the Peratroviches' life for a PBS documentary in the works.

Producer Jeff Silverman, one of the founders of Blueberry Productions out of Anchorage, said he expects to work through the year to put the one-hour film together, and to offer it to stations around the country. "We're not here this week by coincidence," he added, the day after he and Benson attended the Elizabeth Peratrovich Day celebration at Juneau's Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall.

"For the Rights of All: The Alaska Civil Rights Story," has major funding from Native American Public Telecommunications, a member the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's production funding consortium.

Silverman said he also is working with the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Sealaska Heritage Institute on the project. The search for funding is still going on, he added. An independent filmmaker in Alaska for 20 years, he said filmmaking is all about finding the money.

But Silverman already has proven himself with the subject matter. He wrote and directed a short film about Peratrovich that aired on PBS stations in 2002, he said.

It's an inspirational story, Silverman said.

"We're both Ravens," Benson, a Tlingit woman raised in Sitka, said proudly.

Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich, a Petersburg native and Ketchikan High School graduate who is buried in Juneau, was Grand Camp President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood when she testified before the territorial Senate to outlaw discrimination.

She died in 1958, 30 years before Feb. 16 was set aside as a day that bears her name. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Anti-Discrimination Act that she championed before the Senate, following her 1945 speech.

Silverman said it's amazing to consider the blatant discrimination that existed. "We have a lot of people who talk about the signs (in shop windows) and places where people couldn't go," he said.

Silverman said he chose to come the week of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day "because I thought it would be a good time to be here and be part of the celebrations."

Along with Benson's re-enactments, "we're interviewing people who are leaders now and elders who were witnesses to the times," Silverman said.

As for Friday's unseasonably clear and warm weather, he joked, "We ordered this."

The production crew worked between 1 and 1:30 p.m. Friday, with the sun barely above the tall downtown buildings, grabbing shots of Benson and Juneau resident Allan Hayton, portraying husband Roy Peratrovich walking up the Capitol steps. With police blocking all but Capital Transit bus traffic during the filming, Hugh Dilbeck drove his recently acquired 1939 Chevrolet past the actors on each take to help add atmosphere to what will run only for a few seconds in the documentary.

"It's a big story," Silverman said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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