Big film studios get to pedal their skewed image of Alaska and we get the bill. So far, our state has spent more than $30 million on this program that doesn’t make sense from an economic, or common sense perspective. I think it’s time for us to think differently and invest in Alaska’s potential, instead of enriching a multitude of digital carpet-baggers from California and New York.
How about setting aside $250,000 a year and allow Alaska high school and college film programs to apply for $25,000 grants to tell the story of Alaska. I can think of a dozen stories about our history that Hollywood would not touch because the subject matter does not pander to the viewing public’s base instincts, and might actually require some depth, some sense of Alaska to produce. Why not give our students the financial support to produce stories about Project Chariot, the Allen Expedition, The Barrow Duck-in, or the story of Samme Gallaher as told in her book Sisters? Imagine our own filmmakers telling stories about an Inupiat whale hunt, the Pebble Mine project, Jim Crow in Alaska, or give them the resources to turn a powerful Native legend into a modern day parable. I know the local cable and public television stations would love to air these programs that would be both fascinating and substantive.
The History Channel has proven that America has an appetite for meaningful stories, and Alaska with its rich colorful collisions and cultures, offers plenty to engage viewers across the nation and the world. No one can predict how our economy will shape up in the years ahead, but Alaska’s mystique – its ability to inspire, captivate, and educate the viewing public will not be diminished. Our rugged beauty and lifestyle have given us what economists call a “comparative advantage.” Why not allow Alaskans to exploit this advantage? Are we too feeble-minded or burdened by an inferiority complex to believe that Alaskans are incapable to producing meaningful films about their own state and people? As an educator, I believe we have the most creative students on earth who would rise to the challenge.
Alaska history is full of outside corporations exerting control over our resources beginning with the Russian promyslenniki through the Seattle fish canneries and the Morgan Guggenheim Syndicate all the way to today with Big Oil. Why can’t we take back our own stories and invest in the creativity of our own people who understand the nuances of this great land and its people? Let’s direct a sliver of the film incentive program toward our students and see what they come up with. If we can support Taco Bell or cage fighters, why can’t we believe in our own people? Giving our students the opportunity to write scripts, shoot video, and produce their own films will have more of an enduring impact than the current subsidy program.
Let’s take a chance on the creative potential of our youth. Let’s give them the finances to start telling their own stories, and let’s start growing our film industry from the ground up – not through wishful trickle down thinking – the hope that Hollywood and New York can be trusted to tell our stories, and through some kind of economic osmosis provide the impetus for a homegrown filming industry, that in reality, leaves us holding little more than a bag full of old tacos.