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ArtBeat: Classic Alaska film 'Drums of Winter' returns to the big screen in Anchorage

  • Author: Mike Dunham
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published October 31, 2014

One of Alaska's most honored documentary films, "Uksuum Cauyai: The Drums of Winter," will receive screenings at 5:30 and 8 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 3, at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub.

Originally released in 1988, the film received several national and international awards. It was named to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2006 and was recently restored with support from the Rasmuson Foundation and National Film Preservation Foundation.

Filmed in Emmonak, at the mouth of the Yukon River, "Drums" recorded traditional Yup'ik potlatch and dance traditions. It was considered a groundbreaking effort for the time, using the "community-collaborative" process to take input from the subjects of the documentary during the filming; in a sense, it was the grandfather of the process used to produce the new video game "Never Alone." The fact that filmmakers Sarah Elder and Leonard Kamerling used the voices of the people on film to explain what was happening, rather than the faceless outside narrator, a la the Disney "True-Life Adventures," was particularly noted by critics.

Particularly precious for those who grew up in the region is the excellent footage of beloved elders, now passed, performing in their prime.

Following the screenings in Anchorage, the film will be presented in Bethel, Fairbanks, Juneau and, for sure, Emmo.

Filmmaker seeks home movies

Catharine Axley, an MFA candidate in the film studies program at Stanford University, is working on a new documentary about mushing champion George Attla. She spent time at the film archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks this summer but said she's very interested in finding people who may have home movies, photos or even early video of Attla. I seem to recall a lot of cameras rolling at Fur Rendezvous viewing spots back in the day, so we know it's out there.

You can contact Axley at 203-506-6012 or on her website at Find out more about the documentary at

Writing contest starts

What do well-known Alaska writers Dana Stabenow, Dan Coyle, Sue Henry, Jean Anderson, Don Rearden and Arlitia Jones have in common? Aside from being well-known Alaska writers, that is. Answer: They have all received awards or honorable mentions in the annual University of Alaska Anchorage/ADN Creative Writing Contest over the past 33 years. Think you have what it takes to be among the next crop of Alaska literati? The contest returns next month and runs through Feb. 10. All submissions are to be made online at Winning pieces are customarily printed in the paper in the spring, after the cash awards are announced, and all are available online.

Speaking of writing, 49 Writers is having a membership drive right now. Membership starts at $49 -- $25 for seniors, military and full-time students. The group is also looking for a new executive director. For details on these items and much more about 49 Writers doings, go to

Photos in print

The upcoming talk in the American Society of Media Professionals/Alaska First Tuesday Slide/Lecture Series will have a practical angle. Outdoor/adventure photographer Dan Bailey will give a presentation on self-publishing, self-promotion and social media. Bailey is the author of six photo ebooks and two upcoming print books. He'll share some of the information he's learned in the process, discuss building an online audience and talk about new ways of earning a living in photography. The free talk starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 4, at the Anchorage Museum. Enter through the Seventh Avenue doors.

Bandleader benefits Juneau groups

Retired Juneau real estate and hospitality magnate Ron Maas made several nonprofit groups very happy two weeks ago. For his 87th birthday, Maas gave $25,000 each to Juneau Jazz & Classics; the Juneau Symphony; Juneau, Alaska Music Matters and the Glory Hole, a soup kitchen and shelter. Maas plays trumpet and leads the Thunder Mountain Big Band. He's made some serious previous donations to art groups, including the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. He and his wife Kathy, a violinist, met at a rehearsal of the Juneau Symphony and have been a dynamic duo in the local arts scene ever since.

Middle schoolers’ messages will decorate buses

In just a few days, we hear, the political signs will come off Anchorage city buses and be replaced with bright boards created by Anchorage seventh-graders. The artwork is accompanied by affirming messages like "Believe in yourself" and "Never give up." Ten to 15 finalists have been selected and should be making an appearance soon.

Quilter juried into national show

Amy Meissner of Anchorage has been selected for the 34th annual juried quilt show at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn, New York. Meissner's quilt "Girl Story 2" was one of 77 quilts selected for the show from 357 entries sent in from around the world. Awards will be announced on Saturday. The exhibition, "Quilts=Art=Quilts," will open on Sunday and remain on view through Jan. 4.

The high cost of laughter

He who laughs last laughs best, they say, but those whose sense of humor is matched by their frugality may want to rethink expressing mirth at all if a new method for charging patrons at comedy clubs becomes commonplace.

Early this month the BBC reported that the Teatreneu comedy club in Barcelona, Spain, was using facial recognition technology -- tablets installed on the backs of seats watching each patron -- to gauge how much the customer enjoyed the show. Each time one laughs, an additional 0.30 euros is added to the tab. Laugh 80 times and the cost is capped at 24 euros; the 81st guffaw is free, as are all guffaws following.

The BBC said the technology was in response to a new tax on clubs that had driven down attendance; the club owner was trying to recoup losses. So far the idea has paid off and other theaters are picking up the idea.

We wondered whether it might be possible to adjust payments on a sliding scale depending on the quality of the laugh. A quiet chuckle would cost less than a boisterous belly-laugh or uncontrollable snorting cackle.

We wondered if customers might try to question individual charges.

Management: "Our cameras caught you rolling on the floor gasping and slapping the carpet, sir. That will be $10."

Customer: "I wasn't laughing at the lame joke. I was gagging on an ice cube."

And we wondered whether the technology could be applied to non-comedy entertainment. How many times did the customer tense during an adventure-thriller flick? How many times did the opera buff cry during "Madame Butterfly"? What degree of quizzical expression registered on the face of the museum-goer as he or she stood in front of a work of modern art?

And we wondered whether, if pay-per-tingle tickets became universal, some might try to constrain themselves and not release their pent-up yuks and chortles until they were by themselves, out of sight of the cameras, maybe in the powder room.

It calls to mind a story recounted by singer-comedian Harry Lauder, a star of vaudeville in the early decades of the last century. Lauder was doing a show in Atlanta, of all places, when he spotted a bitter-looking old woman in the front row whose dress and bearing instantly told him that she was a fellow Scot. Determined to give his countrywoman her money's worth, Lauder directed his best material right at her: his snarkiest puns, his funniest jokes, his silliest imitations, his most merry songs. But try as he might, all she did was glower, clutch her purse on her lap and stare at him as hard as a stone from start to finish -- even though the rest of the hall yelped with hilarity to the point of tears, cramps and hoarseness.

After the show, as he was signing autographs in the lobby, Lauder saw the woman walking out with a friend and overheard her say, "Aye, that Harry's a wee funny comedian awright. It took everythin' I had to keep from busting out laughin'."

Perhaps she had a premonition of comedy acts to come.