Yes, Alaska has a thriving independent cinema scene, and the annual Anchorage International Film Festival enjoys much credit for the creative renaissance. On Tuesday, the AIFF board rolled out its lineup for this year's 10-day festival at theaters across Alaska's largest city.
This year's big premier will document one of the sentinel moments in Alaska history and lore. "Icebound" explores the 1925 public health crisis in Nome, Alaska, that spawned the 1,000-mile dog race across the Alaskan hinterland each March. Without the diptheria serum relay from Nenana to Nome there may be no Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
The festival highlights cinema that speaks to life in the frozen Far North. "Icebound" will be the first time a documentary has taken top marquee for the film festival, said AIFF president Tony Shepphard.
"Typically, we try and pick something edgy, but I think it definitely fits what we want," said Tony Sheppard, festival president. Jim Parker, director of programming, added that the film mixes unique cinematography with some unseen, archival footage. The film is the result of eight years of extensive research that tells the dramatic tale through voices of well-known mushers, including several members of the talented Seavey clan, as well the last living survivor of the 1925 diptheria outbreak.
Also known as the Great Race of Mercy, more than 30 mushers and some 150 sled dogs combined to make the long trek to Nome in January 1925 to deliver diptheria antitoxin, as fears of an epidemic gripped the remote Alaska community.
According to event organizers, what makes this version of the well-known adventure story different is the angle the production team took on the celebrated piece of Alaska history. The film explains the Alaska Natives' role in the story, and how "racism drove newspaper coverage and ultimately influenced the historic record."
The festival, which Sheppard said started as a "whim idea" 13 years ago, will also include a short film contest in which the top three filmmakers will take home cash. Their films will have a guaranteed screening slot at the festival.
Show times have not been released yet, but those are expected in early November. The festival runs Dec. 6-15.