Film about legendary musher George Attla returns to the screen

mdunham@adn.comFebruary 27, 2014 

Thirty-five years after its release, "Spirit of the Wind," a biopic about mushing champion George Attla, is finally available as a DVD.

The re-released film -- one of few made-in-Alaska movies that most Alaskans have felt good about -- will receive a screening at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Muldoon. Admission is free.

Alaskans lined up by the hundreds to see the movie about their home-state hero when it debuted. It is said to have sold more tickets in Anchorage and Fairbanks than "Star Wars" or "Alien."

It featured Slim Pickens in a major supporting role, music by Buffy Sainte-Marie and several members of the Attla family and other Alaskans in the cast. It earned top awards from the Cannes and Sundance film festivals. It had a limited release in the lower 48 and then, aside from a handful of television and private screenings, disappeared.

What happened?

Ralph Liddle, the producer, director and co-writer of the film, blamed himself. It was shot on a shoestring by six Alaskan friends and funded by loans, he said. "The loans became due and I was under pressure to repay them. Because of a combination of financial pressure and drinking the ego-laced Kool-Aid offered up by some former executives at Sunn Classic Films, I made the horrendous call of going with them."

"Spirit of the Wind" was poorly marketed in the Lower 48, showing in just a few cities, Liddle said. Sunn, whose properties included the "Grizzly Adams" franchise, was acquired by Taft Broadcasting, which, after further reorganizations, filed for bankruptcy in 1993. Its assets wound up with totally different management.

"Three different entities now had a financial interest in the film," Liddle said, and conflicting claims created "a stack of contracts and legal documents that probably weighed 30 pounds."

No one had the energy or money to "undo the Gordian knot," Liddle said. So the film languished in limbo until Anchorage attorney Bill Timme got involved on a pro bono basis. Rights were consolidated under a new company, Raven Releasing, and Liddle went back to the original negative to create a high-definition, full-restored version.

Liddle was on hand when the film made its long-delayed re-debut at the Heritage Center on Feb. 21. He told the Daily News that he and Pius Savage, who played the lead role, will be present to talk about the movie and take questions after Saturday's showing. The DVD will be for sale there. They are also available at Fur Rendezvous headquarters downtown.

Outside of Anchorage, the DVD can be purchased at Jade Boutique in Fairbanks. In a phone call from his home in Huslia, George Attla said he's hoping to get the film into other outlets in the interior.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.


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