Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 7:42 PM on Wednesday, February 16, 2011

' America's Wildest Refuge' shows tonight in Homer

Film features Arctic refuge for 50th anniversary



Photo provided

Filmmakers interview Roger Kaye on the Sheenjek River for a scene from "America's Wildest Refuge."

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge might be the most talked about refuge that's also the one least visited. Even if Americans have visited the refuge in the northeast corner of Alaska, most likely they've only seen it in the summer.

A film that premiered last week in Anchorage, "America's Wildest Refuge: Discovering the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge" seeks to change that. Recognizing that most Americans will probably never visit the remote refuge, co-directors and co-producers Alex Waite and Clint Cowen of Artery Industries, Los Angeles, sought to show as much as they could of the refuge in a 1-hour film.

"The theme all along was 'bringing the refuge to you,'" Waite said. "We want people to experience it from afar."

Filmed for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alaska Geographic, "America's Wildest Refuge" shows at 6 p.m. today at the Homer Theatre. Admission is $5 and benefits the Friends of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and Alaska Geographic.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been celebrating its golden anniversary with a series of events, including last year's performance of "Wild Legacy," a play about Olaus and Mardy Murie, the naturalist couple who did much of the pioneering scientific work in the refuge (see related story, this page).

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known also by its initials, ANWR, has been controversial since the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act set aside all but a portion of the coastal plain as wilderness. That area could be opened to oil and gas development, but requires congressional approval. Some advocate opening part of the Arctic refuge to development while others say it should remain wilderness. The film doesn't try to avoid that controversy, but isn't about the controversy, either.

"Because it is a place with a lot of national attention, and not a place a lot of people personally experience, the best thought was to bring the refuge to the people and bring a balanced and historical perspective why it was set aside as a national refuge," said Lisa Oakely, projects director for Alaska Geographic.

Alaska's Wildest Refuge

Produced and directed by Clint Cowen and Alex Waite

Cinematography by Colin Hargraves


6 p.m. today


Homer Theatre



One approach the filmmakers took was showing the story through people involved with the arctic refuge.

"We wanted the story to be told through the experiences of the people who live in, around and on the refuge — the people who live there and hunt there," Waite said.

About 40 people were interviewed for the film, with a dozen interviews making the final cut. Political figures interviewed include former President Jimmy Carter, who signed ANILCA, and the late Sen. Ted Stevens. Filmed in April 2010 several months before Stevens died, the interview started out with Stevens a little indignant, Waite said.

"We knew he'd have an opinion about that," Waite said of the drilling controversy. "He ended up giving us some poignant, thoughtful answers."

Filming the project had its challenges. A bad fire season in 2009 pre-empted filming on the south slope of the Brooks Range. Instead they filmed more on the Beaufort Sea coast, visiting scientists and Alaska Native hunters. Eventually the filmmakers visited much of the refuge, including winter scenes shot in March 2010. Initially the filmmakers weren't sure if they'd film in the winter at all.

"We decided winter's nine months out of the year on the refuge," Waite said. "We thought it was crazy not to film it."

A DVD of "America's Wildest Refuge" is available from Alaska Geographic for $16.95 at the showing and at its store at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. Oakley said Alaska Geographic is trying to line up showings on public television stations. It also will be shown at wildlife refuges throughout the nation.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.