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Trio of Alaskans offer their thoughts on 'Big Miracle'

We asked three Alaskans -- an environmentalist, an oil company spokesman and an artist with village roots in the Alaska Arctic to watch "Big Miracle" at Sunday's Anchorage screening. Decide for yourself after the movie opens in theaters on Friday.

Environmentalist

By REBECCA NOBLIN

Alaska director, Center for Biological Diversity

"Big Miracle" is the perfect Alaska movie. It's about harsh weather, amazing animals and high-stakes national and international politics. It's about oil companies and environmentalists. It's about a thousands-year-old Inupiat culture struggling to join the modern world while remaining true to itself.

But it's more than an Alaska movie; it's a movie about people and what motivates us.

Although all of the characters in "Big Miracle" became involved in the whale rescue for different reasons, by the end they were united by the same driving force: empathy. The Inupiat people, the scientists, the reporters, the environmentalist, the Americans watching from their TVs, and yes, even the oil executive, were touched by the whales' plight.

As someone working to protect the Arctic, this theme of empathy is what struck me most about "Big Miracle." Sure, in one sense, the movie touched on many of the things I talk about when I argue against offshore drilling in the Arctic: the unpredictability of sea ice, the remoteness, darkness and fierce cold, and the inadequacy of human technology to cope with such conditions. But more deeply, the movie touched on the thing that keeps me going: the idea that people have a profound capacity for caring about things outside themselves. If we can all come together to save a couple of gray whales, surely we have it in us to tackle bigger problems.

Rebecca Noblin is Alaska director and staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Oil company spokesman

By CURTIS SMITH

External affairs manager, Shell Alaska

I was a sophomore at Soldotna High School in 1988 when I noticed the attention of Alaskans had turned noticeably north, to Barrow.

The nation's, too.

At the time, the story of whales trapped in ice was less noteworthy to me than NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw mentioning Alaska at all. Until then, I was convinced Alaska's place in the minds our Lower 48 fellow citizens was strictly as a buffer to the USSR. Thanks to politics I was blissfully unaware of, "Perestroika" and a world-class icebreaker, the story of two whales being freed from Arctic ice gave me a new appreciation for Alaska's special place in the world and a welcome suspicion the Cold War was getting warmer.

It's popular to do a play-by-play on the liberties Hollywood takes with films -- so I won't. "Big Miracle" hit a number of enjoyable notes with this amateur-film critic and passes the most important test I have in my life right now: would I let my kids watch it? Absolutely. Real-life problems are solved when everyone pitches in and that's certainly true in Alaska. You don't get to Alaska by accident and you don't stay unless you are a survivor. Sometimes, that means asking for help.

Loudly.

"Big Miracle" makes that point and entertains along the way. I got a tremendous kick out of seeing so many Alaskan friends on the big screen. Even though promoters for "Big Miracle" give top billing to Drew Barrymore, it's my view Alaskans, especially Ahmaogak Sweeney, stole the show.

It was not surprising to see Ted Danson's character oversimplified as a profit-seeking "oil man." Still, I couldn't help but cringe at how J.W MacGraw's motives were sometimes characterized because I know, from experience, that the vast majority of men and women who work in the oil industry are among the most genuine, environmentally conscious people you will ever meet. But the script was fair in that it spared no one -- environmentalists, Alaska Natives, even Minnesotans -- from the stereotypes that, often times, fail us all. That's a creative license I can forgive as the movie does an admirable job of capturing the spirit of an event that rallied so many of these groups to work together.

Curtis Smith is external affairs manager for Shell Alaska.

Alaska Native artist/writer

By YAARI KINGEEKUK

Artist/writer

As I sat there and watched the movie, a lot came to my mind. I thought of how this movie could help the world understand what whale hunting is about to the Inupiat and St. Lawrence Island Yup'ik (my people). I hope that because of this movie, there will be some understanding whale hunting.

I also thought about how in reality the Inupiat people cared so much to help the whales survive. It goes down to the traditional values taught through generations and I saw some of it throughout the movie. How not only the Inupiat people, but people from all over came to help the whales. It was a very touching movie! It made me wish I was there in person when this event was happening in real life!

John Chase and Ahmaogak Sweeney, they did a really nice job. I'm very proud of everybody that was involved in (the movie). Not just the people I know, but everybody that was involved in putting it together.

I definitely recommend people both Natives and non-Natives alike to see this movie. It is a must-see. Definitely bring some Kleenex because I did get teary eyed.

To know that (the Inupiat hunters) actually helped saved the lives of the gray whales, that really touched me a lot, even though I come from a whaling community.

Yaari Kingeekuk is an artist and writer originally from Savoonga. She lives in Anchorage and works as a cultural programs specialist and instructor for the Alaska Native Heritage Center.



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