Art Beat: Homer film fest celebrates a milestone at this week's opening

Mike Dunham
Muscle Shoals staff show off some of their gold records, in an image from “Muscle Shoals,” which has its international release at the 10th Annual Homer International Documentary Film Festival on Thursday.
Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures
The fighter known as “The Greatest” shows off his punch in “The Trials of Muhammad Ali.”

The Homer International Documentary Film Festival hits a milestone with this year's event. It will be the 10th annual installment and, for the first time, they're hosting an "international release." That means that the film will have its first public showing in Homer, opening nationally in markets like New York and Los Angeles on the following day.

The film, "Muscle Shoals," is a history of a remarkable Alabama recording studio associated with pop greats like Mick Jagger and Etta James. It has received high praise from the critics who have had a sneak peak. It will be featured on opening night, Thursday, along with barbecue and other festivities.

Other movies in the lineup include:

• "Blackfish," a hard-eyed look at killer whales, popular amusement attractions at sea parks, adored as "Free Willy" friendly giants -- and known to chew on people who get too close, hence the "killer" moniker. There will be a discussion with local marine biologist and researcher Craig Matkin at the screening.

• "The Trials of Muhammad Ali," a study in celebrity and the champ's struggle to be accepted on his own terms.

• "20 Feet from Stardom," a tribute to backup singers, the unsung heroes of pop music.

• "Cutie and the Boxer," a Sundance and Tribeca award-winning exploration of love, art and "wild creativity" as seen "through the lens of a fascinating and complex couple."

• "The Crash Reel," about the rivalry between extreme sports competitors Shaun White and Kevin Pearce.

• "Dirty Wars," an expose of the Obama administration's secret, expanding "anti-terrorism" campaign, its rising cost in civilian lives and eroding international respect for America.

• "Genetic Roulette," a film about genetically modified organisms and Big Ag's collusion with the government that may change the way you look at what's in your fridge.

• "The Old Believers," an Alaska production examining the state's Russian Orthodox community focusing on the persecuted "Old Believer" sect and how they came to settle around Kachemak Bay.

The festival will run through Oct. 3. Festival discount passes are priced at $50 for adults and $40 for seniors/children/military and members of the Peace Corps. Regular ticket prices are $8 adults and $6 for the rest. A complete schedule and purchasing information can be found at and

Watching the big fight

The upcoming film festival screenings will take place at the Historic Homer Theatre, once the Homer Family Theater, said to be the "longest running movie house in Alaska." That conforms to my memory.

The theater was not new when I saw the black-and-white newsreel of Cassius Clay's defeat of Sonny Liston. Everyone knew the outcome before the reel arrived, at least a week after the famous match. But the town -- this was a decade before television reached the lower Kenai Peninsula -- was buzzing with anticipation at seeing clips from the bout on the silver screen. I remember that buzz but have forgotten the romantic comedy or western that probably made up the main bill. (The only documentaries in those days came from Walt Disney.)

Tickets were 35 cents and popcorn cost 15 cents. We had a cartoon, of course. There were no ads and no more than three minutes of previews.

Now we hear the house is equipped with digital sound and 3-D projection capabilities. Would those technological wonders have made the magic of our celluloid introduction to the future Muhammad Ali, nearly 50 years ago, any more thrilling?

Back-to-back programs

Pianist Juliana Osinchuk joins Laura Koenig, Dawn Lindsay and Linda Ottum in an Anchorage Festival of Music program of baroque music by women composers. This promises to be a particularly interesting program. It takes place 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Blue.Hollomon Gallery, 3555 Arctic Blvd. Admission is $35, $25 for seniors, $15 for students. The indefatigable Osinchuk, who also accompanied violinist Christine Harada Li in an all-Brahms recital on Friday, will then head to Soldotna where she will perform in yet a third distinctive program, a concert honoring the birth anniversaries of Guiseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt and featuring singers Nancy Caudill and Kate Egan. The event is presented by the Kenai Peninsula's Performing Arts Society and will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in Soldotna's Christ Lutheran Church. More at the website,

Wilderness literature

Seldovia-based author Erin Mc- Kittrick has a new book from The Mountaineers Press. "Small Feet, Big Land," a collection of essays about how she and her husband, Brentwood "Hig" Higman, have traipsed through the wildest parts of Alaska with their kids, from infants in backpacks to toddlers to intrepid young adventurers.

You may recall that McKittrick and Higman made a splash in 2006-07 by paddling and hiking from Seattle to Dutch Harbor -- the subject of her first book, "A Long Trek Home."

A series of book talks, most with slides, has been set up that will take McKittrick from Fairbanks to Ketchikan next month, after which she will head to similar book events in the Lower 48. Anchorage is on the schedule for Oct. 3; details are posted at This week her trek includes appearances at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Islands and Ocean Center in Homer, 5:30 p.m. on Friday at the Kenai Library and 2 p.m. Saturday at the Seward Library.

'Passion' lineup announced

Steven Alvarez, who has previously sung the role of Jesus Christ in "Superstar" and the Celebrant in Leonard Bernstein's "Mass" will add to his ecclesiastic repertoire when he takes the part of the narrator in J.S. Bach's "St. John Passion" with the Anchorage Concert Chorus on Oct. 18 and 20.

The work will be sung in English and presented in a "modern, staged version" with sets by Margret Hugi-Lewis. Richard Reichman, currently featured in Cyrano's lively comedy, "La Bete," will direct the stage action. The music will be in the hands of ACC Grant Cochran. Other soloists will be George Yang, Kyle Gantz, Mari Hahn, Marsha Miller-Ackerman, Zachary Milliman and Steven Dixon.

Performances will take place in Atwood Concert Hall 8 p.m. Oct. 18 and 4 p.m. Oct. 20. Tickets are available at

Arts council teleconference Thursday

The Alaska State Council on the Arts will hold its quarterly teleconference meeting starting noon Thursday at the council's Anchorage offices, 161 S. Klevin St., Suite 102. Among the business at this meeting will be the approval of grants to artists and art groups. The public is welcome to attend. For details or teleconference instructions, contact the council office at 269-6610 or, for readers outside of Anchorage, toll free at 888-278-7424.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.