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Alaskans win Norwegian film contest with 'Arctic Contrast'

  • Author: Lisa Demer
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published January 18, 2016

BETHEL -- The challenge was to make a short film about the Arctic that went beyond icons like polar bears and caricatures like those in Disney's movie "Frozen."

The winning entry by two former rural Alaska journalists touches on the complexities, riches and challenges of life in the only Arctic U.S. state -- framed around the climate, the people and the economy -- all in under three minutes.

The Royal Norwegian Embassy #MeetTheArctic contest for amateur and student filmmakers comes with a prize: an upcoming trip to Norway and showings of the film "Arctic Contrast," including at the Tromso International Film Festival this month.

Ben Matheson, who worked as a reporter for KNOM in Nome and then for KYUK in Bethel, teamed up with Laureli Ivanoff, KNOM's former news director and an occasional columnist for Alaska Dispatch News.

Matheson, originally from Minnesota, has lived in Alaska about five years and said he wanted to work with Ivanoff because she "can trace her history a lot farther back." Ivanoff, who is Alaska Native, has returned to her home village of Unalakleet. She recruited the narrators, her niece Katiya Simonsson and Katiya's husband, Thomas.

"It can be remote but there's a vibrancy out here and life out here," Ivanoff said. "There's an economy. There are people who love it up here. And the world is opening up."

Matheson contributed most of the footage, shot over the years on a variety of small video cameras and his iPhone. Ivanoff, who filmed as well, said she added more of a human element to the script. They put it together in about three weeks.

"We are not just ice and snow. We are green and full of life," the narrator says at the start.

The film shows the erosion of a remote village and the congestion of Tudor Road, postcard-pretty mountains and the dance of northern lights, oil company buildings and Bethel's small port.

"In spite of all the differences, we do derive strength from what we have in common and what we can do together," Matheson said.

Scenes came from Anchorage and Talkeetna, Unalakleet and Shishmaref, Bethel and Tuluksak, Teller and Nome. The whole state is interested in and part of "all things Arctic," Matheson said.

"For all of us, the trail ahead is uncertain but we know we must make our way together," narrator Katiya Simonsson says.

She is going on the trip to Norway along with the filmmakers. Ivanoff said other relatives already are asking to do the voiceover next time around.

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