An 81-year-old legendary Alaskan Native dog sled racing champion strives to revitalize his community’s cultural pride and rebuild the passion for sprint racing by training a young villager to become the next great racer.
UPDATE: We reached our goal of $5,500 and are going to Huslia, AK this fall! Thank you to our supporters from all over the world who made it happen. Exceeding our goal now allows us to fund the costs of our 2nd trip in late December. This enables us to use our Kickstarter campaign to accomplish more than we ever thought possible, and set a stretch-goal of a total of $14,500 to cover the costs of our 3rd trip in late February. This is incredibly exciting, because our Kickstarter campaign has the potential to cover all filming costs, so that any grant money we receive can be directly applied to the necessary and expensive post-production process. Let's keep up the momentum!
This past August, legendary dog musher George Attla turned 81 years old. Having maintained a racing career spanning over five decades with numerous championship titles, Attla is recognized as the greatest sprint sled dog racer of the twentieth century. But Attla’s legacy stretches far beyond the trophies stacked high in his home in Huslia. In embodying ideals of persistence despite handicap and pride in one’s cultural heritage and history, Attla became a hero within his community, state, and country, particularly for Alaskan Natives and Native Americans in the United States.
It is imperative to capture Attla’s remarkable life story through his own recollections and reflections. While a fiction film based on Attla’s early life, The Spirit of the Wind, was made in 1979, there has been no documentary film made to reflect Attla’s full career and impact. It is surprising, because Attla himself, in archival film footage and in person today, is witty and compelling, and his story carries cultural depth and significance for future audiences.
Furthermore, Attla is currently pioneering a program of cultural revitalization through dog mushing to strengthen local youth both physically and mentally. In capturing his efforts to restore Athabascan pride among future generations, the film will provide a model of empowerment for other communities that aspire to reinvigorate their own cultural identities and practices.
There is an urgency to making this film this year, as Attla will be mentoring and training a 19-year-old aspiring dog musher from Huslia, in order to pass down his racing knowledge to a new generation. Attla's young protege will live with Attla from October through the winter races and is hoping to race in the winter's largest sprint races. Could he be the next George Attla? Attla believes that his young mentee could become part of a new wave to inspire Alaskans across the state to reclaim and rebuild a sport that is at the core of their cultural heritage.
The film will be driven by Attla’s and his protege's mentor-mentee relationship, and will use this narrative as a backbone upon which we will be transported to key moments in the past to understand the breadth and significance of Attla’s life and career. Through these vignettes, which will be illustrated through archival video and photographs and described by a wide array of sportswriters, former dog racers, and family members, we will gain an appreciation for the historical significance of Attla’s current mission.
To learn more about Attla, his impressive life and career, and his mission to revitalize dog mushing for future generations of Alaskans, please visit this incredible website produced by Kathy Turco in collaboration with George Attla and with input from countless volunteers and contributors:
THE YOUTH PROGRAM:
For over two years, George Attla and three Huslia kennel owners/mushers have volunteered to use their dogs to run the Frank Attla Youth and Sled Dog Care Program, named in memory of Attla's late son, Frank. Kennel owners/mushers, school teachers, local Americorps service members, and 50+ community volunteers work together to plan classes and to support youth in hosting their own Junior sled dog races on weekends.
The grassroots program aims to revitalize and strengthen the community's sled dog tradition by increasing awareness and knowledge of sled dog care, training, and racing. Over 30 middle school and high school participants have not only learned about a practice central to their cultural heritage, but have also performed at higher levels in school and developed stronger self-esteem. Participants have also had the opportunity to compete in local village dog sled races and some in championship races in Fairbanks to experience the thrill of racing competitively.
GOALS OF THE FILM:
The ultimate goal of creating a documentary on George Attla is to ensure that his legacy is preserved and shared with audiences across the state, country, and world. Thus, the project has received a letter of intent to air from Tim Olson at KTOO in Juneau, with the plan of using KTOO as a host station to then partner with other public television stations across the state and country to broadcast the film. The film will also be entered in film festivals all over the world, including the Anchorage International Film Festival, and will be shown in Alaskan schools through the AK Sports Hall of Fame’s Healthy Future and Healthy Heroes programs. The hope is that Attla’s story will have a critical impact on young people, teaching them through Attla’s example, that it is possible to achieve success and happiness, no matter what your circumstances may be. Attla has been and can continue to be, through this film, a beacon of hope and empowerment.
WHAT YOUR SUPPORT WILL FUND:
The project is being developed with George Attla’s full permission and support, access to all of his personal artifacts, logistical and advisory support from Alaska’s Documentary Film Center, and access to the University of Alaska’s Film Archives. As the film is being made within the MFA graduate program at Stanford University, the film will be completed by June 2015 with the support and guidance of the award-winning faculty.
The project director has already made a trip to Fairbanks to work with the UAF Film Archive, spend time with George Attla and his partner, Kathy Turco, obtain personal photographs and video footage, and film a short scene with Attla in Fairbanks.
We reached our goal of $5,500 and are going to Huslia, AK this fall! Thank you to our supporters from all over the world who made it happen. Exceeding our goal by $5,000 allows us to fund our 2nd trip in late December! We can now use our Kickstarter campaign to accomplish more than we ever thought possible, and set a stretch-goal of a total of $14,500 to cover the costs of our 3rd trip in late February. This is incredibly exciting, because our Kickstarter campaign has the potential to cover all filming costs, so that any grant money we receive can be directly applied to the necessary and expensive post-production process.
Thank you for considering becoming a part of this project and bringing this story to the screen! We greatly appreciate any support - financial or in spreading the word - that you can provide.
Director Catharine Axley is an emerging filmmaker who seeks stories of empowerment through subjects that defy expectations, transforming our understanding of the past and aspirations for the future. Her films have received recognition at festivals across the country including DOC NYC, the United Nations Association Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival, Real to Reel International Film Festival, and the Harlem International Film Festival. Axley was Associate Producer-Line Producer-Assistant Editor on Morgenthau, which aired on WNET/Channel 13 in 2014. She is currently finishing her final year in the M.F.A. Documentary Film & Video program at Stanford University.
Her short documentary, Counting the Dead, was selected as a Regional Finalist for the 2014 Student Academy Awards. Axley received a BA in History and Ethnicity, Race & Migration from Yale University.
Production Associate Melissa Langer was born and raised in Washington, DC. She received a BA in History from Carleton College and has worked for the Philadelphia Film Society, the People's Production House, and Creative Time in New York. For the past several years she has lived in Boston, where she has worked for independent non-fiction production houses making media for permanent museum installations around the country. She most recently has been producing and editing In Crystal Skin, an independent film shot in Bogotá, Colombia, that traces the lives of four individuals challenged by Epidermolysis Bullosa, a severe inherited skin disorder. The film intimately observes the quiet routines of those who manage daily life with a rare disease. The fortitude of her subjects inspires her to be a better filmmaker. She is currently finishing her final year in the M.F.A. Documentary Film & Video program at Stanford University.
Faculty Advisor Jamie Meltzer's feature documentary films have been broadcast nationally on PBS and have screened at numerous film festivals worldwide. His current documentary project, Freedom Fighters (in progress), is a co-production of ITVS and the recipient of a Sundance Institute grant and a MacArthur grant. Informant (2012), about a revolutionary activist turned FBI informant, was released in theaters in the US and Canada in Fall 2013 by Music Box Films and KinoSmith. Previous films include: Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story (Independent Lens, 2003), about the shadowy world of song-poems, Welcome to Nollywood (PBS Broadcast, 2007), an investigation into the wildly successful Nigerian movie industry, and La Caminata (2009), a short film about a small town in Mexico that runs a simulated border crossing as a tourist attraction. He teaches in the M.F.A. Program in Documentary Film and Video at Stanford University.
Faculty Advisor Kris Samuelson has been an independent filmmaker for over 25 years. She was nominated for an Academy Award forArthur and Lillie and has received Artist's Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council. She is the Edward Clark Crossett Professor of Humanistic Studies in the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University. From 1999-2006, Samuelson served on the Board of the Independent Television Service. She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Humanities Advisor Leonard Kamerling is Curator of Film at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, and Professor of English at UAF. Over the last 25 years, he has produced numerous critically acclaimed, international award winning documentary films about Alaska Native cultures and Northern issues. He received his training at the London Film School, and earned his MFA in Creative Writing from UAF. He joined the Creative Writing Faculty in 1999 where he specializes in teaching writing for film, theater and television.
His film, "Heart of the Country," was nominated for the American Film Institute's prestigious Par Lorenze Award. Recently his documentary, "The Drums of Winter," was named to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.
Throughout his career, Leonard Kamerling has been concerned with issues of cultural representation in film, cross-cultural communication and the role that film and film writing can play in eliminating stereotypes and in credibly translating one culture to another.
Advisor/Coordinator/Archivist/Sound Archivist Kathy Turco has been recording natural sounds in the Arctic since 1985. After receiving a graduate degree in arctic marine biology, she established an audio production company in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1993. The mission of that company, Alaska’s Spirit Speaks: Sound & Science, is to use natural sound recordings as a medium for public education on wildlife ecology and the natural history of Alaska. Turco has worked as writer, voice talent, sound designer, and producer of radio programs aired nationally and web-based audio-visual programs for science education and outreach. Turco’s natural sound recordings have been the centerpiece of a large number of wildlife films, radio documentaries, and museum & visitor center exhibits, as well as sound effects in feature films. To learn more about the work of Kathy Turco, go to www.alaskas-spirit.com and www.spiritofthearctic.com. Turco currently lives in Huslia and helps run the Frank Attla Youth Sled Dog Care-Mushing program with George Attla.
HOME MOVIE FOOTAGE OF ATTLA
If you, or someone you know, may have home movie footage of Attla, please contact Catharine! We are hoping to amass as much archival material as possible in order to richen the film and story. After spending hours watching race footage, we've spotted many race enthusiasts with their own cameras, and would love to be able to use their recordings to strengthen the film. Thank you!!
*thank you to Stacia Backensto for footage + photos of the Frank Attla Youth Sled Dog Care-Mushing program!!
Risks and challenges
RISKS and CHALLENGES:
As we will be using not only archival materials, but also material that we have not yet shot, there is a degree of unpredictability as to how our story will unfold. However, that's part of the excitement of documentary filmmaking! Because this film is being made within the MFA Documentary Film program at Stanford, it will have to be completed by June 2015, without exception.
- (30 days)