"The Raven's Gift," Alaska author Don Rearden's 2011 novel about rural Alaskans struggling to survive a mysterious pandemic, is being developed into a feature film.
Scott Walker is on board to direct. Walker came to Anchorage in 2011 to direct the film "The Frozen Ground." Walker also wrote the screenplay for the movie, based on the story of real-life serial killer Robert Hansen.
"I'm always drawn to real human survival stories where we're tested and have to rise to the best of our availability and do things we didn't think we could do," Walker said. "The book got me on so many levels. You've got this incredible landscape and an unlikely group of people trying to make their way through this bleakness to try and find hope. And the whole backdrop to that is a love story."
The Internet Movie Database cites 2019 as a tentative release date for "The Raven's Gift."
In Rearden's book, a young, blind Alaska Native woman who experiences mystical revelations teams up with John Morgan, a man from the Lower 48 who came to Alaska with his wife for a temporary teaching gig in a Southwest Alaska village.
Not long after the Morgans arrive in the Bush, a devastating disease spreads through the region and civilization devolves into lawless, desperate chaos.
The book is part suspenseful survival thriller, part commentary on rural Alaska infrastructure and education issues. When John and his wife Anna first start adjusting to Bush life, they are humbled by the challenges, from the high food prices to the lack of indoor plumbing to the indifference of their students.
Since its publication, the novel has worked its way into Alaska university curriculum, where it's been taught in English, psychology and literature courses.
Walker said he is currently seeking financiers and stars to join the project and has been sending out the script, which was co-written by him and Rearden, to potential collaborators.
Walker said he plans to shoot the film in Manitoba, Canada.
"Manitoba has phenomenal tax incentives, and it's got tundra and it's got the people and the look and everything that we need," Walker said. "But the dream would be to shoot in Alaska."
Alaska previously had a film incentive program, which was established in 2008 and was in play when Walker directed "The Frozen Ground," but it ended in 2015.
Rearden, a University of Alaska Anchorage associate professor who was raised in Bethel, reached out to Walker in 2013 via Twitter. He sent Walker a review of his book and asked him if he'd interested in bringing another Alaska story to the screen. Then he sent him "The Raven's Gift."
In fall of 2013, Rearden and Walker met for the first time and talked about the potential project.
Walker "wanted to write and direct it. I wanted to write the screenplay and that's kind of where our creative differences separated," Rearden said. "From there we kept contact over the years via phone and email."
Walker contacted Rearden last year and asked if he was still interested in turning his book into a movie.
"I was like, 'funny you asked, I have a script,' " Rearden said.
A 2014 Rasmuson Foundation Project Award had enabled Rearden to go to Bethel and work on a screenplay.
Walker and Rearden decided to tackle the draft of the script in tandem.
"We worked together and re-wrote it and we were off and running," Rearden said. "It has everything you want in a contemporary movie: love and action and violence and scary stuff. There's the mysticism and magic and darkness and hope."