Alaska News

Lance Mackey documentary, years in the making, finally gets Alaska showing

Filmmaker Greg Kohs has a gooey analogy when people ask why he made a documentary on champion Iditarod and Yukon Quest musher Lance Mackey. It all comes down to the famous Takotna pies.

Kohs said while making an independent documentary on Mackey titled "The Great Alone," he found the story to be a lot like the famous pies people told him he needed to try in Takotna, an Iditarod checkpoint famous as a place where many mushers like taking their 24-hour mandatory breaks.

"I guess Lance Mackey is a lot like a piece of pie. Once you get a taste of his story and personality, you want to share it with others. And like a homemade pie, the tin is often dinged up, and the crust might not look perfect, but inside is a delicious recipe refined by time, wisdom and soul," Kohs wrote in a Facebook post last month.

In a follow up email, Kohs, 48, admitted the analogy was a bit hokey, but an appropriate way to explain why he decided to follow the champion musher along the Iditarod Trail in 2013 in an attempt to tell a story many fans of sled dog racing already know.

"What was appealing to me about Lance was his openness and honesty," Kohs said from his home outside Philadelphia on Monday. "He was just very authentic."

Kohs' independently produced documentary follows Mackey along the 2013 trail, where he went on to place 19th. It also traces back to his early life, with family interviews, including dad and 1978 Iditarod champion Dick Mackey, along with his hard-scrabble rise over the years to becoming a legendary dog musher.

Kohs said the family relationship drew him to the story, and he believes it will resonate with viewers unfamiliar with Mackey's story. Kohs first worked with Mackey years earlier when he did a short film for the Livestrong Foundation on Mackey overcoming cancer.

He said they had full access to the musher, though at times working with his schedule -- which is notoriously fluid -- proved difficult. In an effort to follow Mackey along the trail, Kohs chartered a fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter to reach remote areas.

Being able to get to those portions of the trail gave Kohs a sense of what the race is really like and the inspiration for the film's title.

"It felt like 'Lawrence of Arabia' out there," Kohs said. "A desert of snow, and he was this figure out there going across it. It felt right."

Mackey, who saw a cut of the film last year, has endorsed the film. Kohs said Mackey cried at the screening and that the film "pumped him up" to race this year. Mackey is signed up to run the 2015 Iditarod and is finishing the Yukon Quest race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks this week.

Kohs, who serves as director and producer, declined to say how much the film cost to produce, only saying "a lot." A filmmaker who specializes in commercials, Kohs said he makes long-form documentaries as passion projects in his spare time.

Kohs is currently trying to get the film into other festivals in an effort to "build energy" around the film for a wider release. It's unclear what the next steps for the film are, though he's looking at possibly getting it on television or distributed through a streaming service like Netflix. But he wanted to make sure the film could get an Alaska showing first. One showing is scheduled for March 4 at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub, though Kohs said if there's enough interest, a second one might be added.

Following the showing will be a Q&A with Kohs and Mackey. Tickets are available online or at the Bear Tooth box office.

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.

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