Purely by accident, Ketchikan is the subject of a short documentary film that will be aired on Alaska public television, perhaps as early as this spring.
The three-man documentary crew had planned to film in Hyder, a small Southeast town nestled so close to British Columbia that children there attend Canadian schools.
But, as often is the case in Alaska, weather forced a change of plans. Carl Crum, Slavik Boyechko and Travis Gilmour found themselves stuck in Ketchikan.
“We had intentions of going on a DeHaviland Beaver to Hyder, the mail plane to Hyder, up the Portland Canal,” Gilmour said. “That just didn’t turn out for us. So, as Alaskans do, we pulled up our XTRA-TUFS and made the best of it.”
The filmmakers prefer to spend about a month making plans and scheduling interviews before arriving to film a story. For the impromptu Ketchikan shoot, though, they had about a day to plan, and a day and a half to film.
“It turned out for the best,” Boyechko said. “We really had a great time in Ketchikan, didn’t plan for it at all and probably had a mixture of contacts and people we met that we wouldn’t have done if we had a month to Google everybody in town. It was really great. Kind of good luck with the weather.”
He said the point of the project is to show the real community, and the people who live here. So, they talked to a local seafood shop owner, the ballet school, movie theatre managers…
“We even met somebody randomly who makes sausages in his basement, so it was one of those things where you take your camera out and people see you and tell you about stories that might be interesting,” he said.
Crum lives in Texas, and he produces the One Square Mile film series, which the Ketchikan segment will accompany.
“The series itself goes around the U.S. and documents different communities. We had already done One Square Mile in Alaska a couple years ago in Barrow. That’s how we ended up meeting Travis and Slavik, through the PBS station in Anchorage,” Crum said.
Boyechko added that, “We saw the One Square Mile Barrow episode a couple years ago, and we were really just thrilled with it. It was an amazing perspective on Barrow from someone from Texas. So we emailed him and said next time you’re in Alaska, we’d like to come with you and see how you make a documentary and learn from him and help out where we can, and then to air it on television. He said he’d like to do a bookend of the Barrow episode with a town in Southeast Alaska.”
During their stay in Ketchikan, the three visited a day shelter for homeless people, talked to the owners of Sweet Mermaids bakery and went to one of downtown’s iconic bars.
“We get to go to a place like the Sourdough cocktail lounge before noon for work. So, it has its perks. But we get to hear from bartenders like Donna, who’s worked there for 35 years,” Boyechko said.
Crum added that, “Overall, we’re looking for a first-person perspective of the people that actually live here. So it’s not a tourist version of Ketchikan. That’s why we’re not here in the summer. It’s more for what is it like to work here, to live here, to raise a family here. So, whether it’s a grocery store owner that’s had a grocery in the family for four generations now in Ketchikan … it’s finding as many different perspectives as we can.”
Boyechko said those perspectives include a focus on local industry and economic development, even among high-school students. Residents also talked to them about the marked difference between Ketchikan in the summer, when the town is overrun with tourists; and Ketchikan during the winter, when most arts and entertainment events take place.
Interviews from the trio’s visit will be edited down to about two or three minutes apiece, and Crum said the segments then will be strung together into an approximately half-hour documentary.
Boyechko said the program likely will air often on Alaska public television.
“Because there’s a lot of spots during the day where you need to have a 30-minute filler in between programs,” he said. “So, for example, the Barrow episode, we ended up airing a whole bunch of times, because it just naturally fit and it’s better than airing 30 minutes of one-minute spots about the station.”
To get an idea of how the Ketchikan episode will end up, you can see portions of previous One Square Mile segments online, including a clip from the Barrow episode. To view them, visit www.onesquaremile.tv