Sean Penn film 'Into the Wild' to make its debut in Fairbanks

Movie adapted from real-life tale of man who died in wilderness

Posted: Friday, August 24, 2007

FAIRBANKS - A new Sean Penn film will be making its debut at a popular night spot in Fairbanks weeks before its release nationwide.

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Two screenings are planned for the movie "Into the Wild," the nonfiction tale of a 24-year-old Virginia man who hitchhiked to Alaska in 1992 and eventually died in an abandoned bus near the Parks Highway. The film's debut is scheduled for Sept. 3.

The movie, based on Jon Krakauer's book, was written and directed by Penn. He said the local screenings are a way of thanking Alaskans who worked on the movie while it was being filmed on location last summer. It will be released nationwide Sept. 21.

The main character, Christopher McCandless, is portrayed in the movie by Emile Hirsch, with supporting actors that include Vince Vaughn, William Hurt and Catherine Keener.

Penn said the local crew members helped tremendously with filming in locations that rarely attract camera crews. Much of the story takes place between Fairbanks and Anchorage, including remote areas off the Parks Highway.

"The state and the people that worked on the movie from the state were mutually invaluable," Penn said, speaking from Los Angeles by telephone.

The nonfiction tale of McCandless follows his trail as he sheds his possessions and attempts to live a simple wilderness life. He embarked on a poorly equipped trek down the Stampede Trail, ended up taking shelter in the bus and eventually died.

Penn said McCandless embodies the wanderlust that everyone experiences.

"I think this is a story of personal will," he said.

Penn said he picked up "Into the Wild" in a bookstore a decade ago and ended up reading it cover-to-cover twice before going to sleep that night. The next day he began working to secure the film rights.

"It just left an indelible imprint on me," he said.

McCandless is viewed in a largely sympathetic light in the book as an idealistic wanderer on a badly planned journey of self-discovery.

The story also tested Penn's patience. It took a decade before he was able to begin filming, which left him time to visualize the entire movie in his head.

But when he finally made it to Alaska to scout locations last year, Penn said the enormity of the movie's backdrop dazzled him. Although other locations were briefly considered, he said there was no doubt "Into the Wild" would be filmed in Alaska.

"The first words that came to my mind were nature on steroids," he said. "Bigger, deeper, stronger, colder, wilder, exciting."

The Denali Education Center will get the proceeds from the $25 tickets to the Fairbanks screenings. Penn is not planning to attend the screening but a producer for the film may be available for an after-movie discussion.

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