Filmmaker looks into eating habits in Alaska

Posted: Sunday, November 09, 2008

SITKA - Ellen Frankenstein won't say whether was able to pull the trigger and shoot a deer.

"You have to go see the movie," the Sitka filmmaker said when asked about the central question in her latest film "Eating Alaska," set to premier this week at the University of Alaska's Museum of the North in Fairbanks.

The film is about Frankenstein's quest to find an ethical way to eat.

She delves into issues surrounding local and regional food traditions and how people relate to their environment.

The documentary follows Frankenstein as she hunts deer in Sitka, visits vegans in Wasilla, trolls for salmon with her husband, stops by a farmers market in the lower 48 states, goes through a Sitka supermarket with Blatchley Middle School students and stalks caribou near Kotzebue.

As she made the movie, she was learning to shoot and trying to figure out whether was willing to kill and eat a deer.

The film includes the voices of Alaskans whose families "have been here since time immemorial and the newer transplants who fish, hunt, gather, garden and think about what they put on their plates," Frankenstein said.

Frankenstein has a background in anthropology. She's a former vegetarian who moved to Alaska and married a salmon troller.

She initially planned to make a movie about women who hunt. As she spent time out in the woods following women as they hunted deer, she realized there were larger issues to examine, such as questions about what people eat and how they relate to their environment.

"This is a story about connecting to where we live, urban or far from it, and coming to terms with what we eat and how we come by it," Frankenstein wrote in a statement describing the film.

Frankenstein said she typically "makes films about other people," but for this project she inserted her own experiences.

The purpose of "Eating Alaska" was to stir the pot, she said, and she worked to create a documentary that would raise, rather than answer, questions.

"I wanted to make a film about food and environment," Frankenstein said. "Not something self-righteous, not something for environmentalists. I wanted it to be balanced, in the sense that it starts a dialogue."

In Sitka, Frankenstein hopes the movie will foster conversation about healthy eating. Steps to a Healthier SE Alaska, a grant program based at Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, was a major film funder.

The Sitka Alaska Permanent Charitable Trust, Douglas-Dornan Foundation, Sitka Film Society, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and KTOO-TV in Juneau also provided financial support.

"There's such an abundance of food, sometimes we just eat on autopilot. We should be really thinking about eating," said Doug Osborne, who works in the Health Promotion department at SEARHC.

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