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'Spirit of the Wind' finally available in Alaska's largest city

Suzanna Caldwell
Huslia musher George Attla runs the Fur Rendezvous World Championship Sled Dog Race in 1974. "Spirit of the Wind," the 1978 film about Attla with a cult following among mushing fans, is now available for purchase in Alaska after decades of scarcity. Courtesy Maxine Vehlow

Decades after its initial release, "Spirit of the Wind" is finally back in Anchorage.

Director Ralph Liddle said the film is available for purchase at Fur Rendezvous headquarters and the Alaska Native Heritage Center, both located in Alaska's largest city.

The film -- which documents the early life and success of sprint mushing champion George Attla -- was filmed in Alaska in 1978 and released soon after. The film was a success in Alaska, Liddle said. In Fairbanks, it brought in $50,000 in box office receipts, impressive given that only 25,000 people lived in Fairbanks at the time, he said. But in the years since, licensing issues kept the film from having a wider release.

Liddle said Thursday that he blames himself. The film ended up taking an extra year in pre-production. Those delays meant loan deferrals snuck on him. In an effort to avoid creditors, he sold the rights to executives associated with Sunn Classic Films. The company went bankrupt shortly thereafter.

That made getting the film distribution rights a challenge, especially because there weren't any lawyers to deal with, Liddle said. He even backed away from the project himself in embarrassment.

"If you've done something stupid, you kind of don't want to look at it," he said.

Liddle, Attla and lawyers worked for years to secure the rights. Starting last month, Attla said, he's able to sell the film in Fairbanks and villages in Interior Alaska. Liddle is in charge of selling it in Southcentral and Southeast.

While it's now available on DVD -- and fully remastered -- don't expect "Spirit of the Wind" to be available online anytime soon. Liddle said he'll consider putting it online "in a few years," moving slowly in an effort to avoid piracy. He added that part of the proceeds will go back toward scholarships for the Doyon and Gana-A’Yoo, Ltd. Alaska Native corporations, which helped finance the film originally.

"We want it to come back and be nourished by its home," he said.