Our Alaskan Stories

2016 marked the first year of Our Alaskan Stories, a program designed to teach Mt. Edgecumbe High School students about video and audio storytelling while looking at their hometowns through a different lens.

November 10th, 2016 marks the culmination of the pilot year for the program with a film screening of five of the students’ films at the Coliseum Theater in downtown Sitka.

The first year of the program was generously supported by the Crossett Fund.

We’ll be launching a new season of Our Alaskan Stories in January 2017. Students interested in participating can write to peter@iialaska.org for more information.

Story from Sitka Sentinel, Nov 9 2016:

Five students returned to Mount Edgecumbe High School this year with footage from their hometowns – McGrath, Klawock, Old Harbor, Bethel, and New Stuyahok. The students have been participating in the first year of Our Alaskan Stories, a new program at the Island Institute. The program started with several weeks of workshops with Annika Ord and Emmett Williams in the winter. Since returning from home this fall, they’ve worked to turn the footage, narration, and interviews from the summer into complete short films.  Their films will launch this Thursday, November 10th at the Coliseum Theater downtown with a premiere public screening from 6-7pm, which will include a question and answer session with the young filmmakers.

The stories come from Daedre Gibbens of McGrath, Alisandra Lake of Kodiak, Haley Shervey of Craig, Tiffany Alexie of New Stuyahok, and Bray Hoover of Bethel. Island Institute director Peter Bradley indicates that “We’re excited about this project because it offers new experiences for the students and audiences alike. The students have learned so much from Emmett and Annika about video, audio, storytelling, and interviewing; but they perhaps learned even more from having reason to go home to find a new understanding of home. Audiences will see five very different expressions of home, five snapshots of life across Alaska.”

Daedre Gibbens’ film is shot largely from the window of a moving vehicle, a visual tour of McGrath accompanied by Daedre’s narration. Daedre says, “My video was originally about why people stay in the villages all their lives and never leave. It turned into more of why McGrath is my home, why I call it home. I learned the different perspectives of people that I’ve grown up with, the different perspectives of how people look at McGrath.” Daedre says that prior to embarking on this project, “I never even thought about film before this… I feel really accomplished.”

Haley Shervey’s film is built around interviews with two individuals in Klawock and focused on the conservation efforts for one of the local watersheds. During the filming, Haley says that she “learned a lot about the history of the area, and a lot of information about the history and ecology and science behind an area I’ve lived for a long time.” When asked if the project changed her relationship to home, Haley said, “Definitely. […] I’ve lived on the island most of my life, but I didn’t know enough to have a close relationship or idea about it.” As a graphic novelist, Haley identifies as a storyteller, but says that this project ” led me to think more about different ways to use media and storytelling to communicate ideas. It didn’t occur to me that I could use media and storytelling to spread awareness.”

Alisandra Lake’s film is shot in Old Harbor, and features her grandma, Mary Haakanson. She describes the opportunity to film her grandmother as a valuable leaning experience. “I learned more about what it was like to grow up there and be there in the past. You really get a cultural and traditional perspective on the place that you’ve known a long time. It made me happy to hear her talk about her childhood and the way things used to be. You learn about the past by listening to stories, and listening to elders; what they share is a crucial part of being progressive. You learn from your mistakes but you also learn from good systems and belief systems. She’d always talk about helping neighbors, being there for one another, and coming together as a community. Those aren’t values that are as important anymore.”

The program was the brainchild of Annika Ord, program manager and co-instructor for the program. The Crossett Fund, administered by the Seattle Children’s Hospital, immediately stepped in to fund the first year of the program, allowing the Island Institute to bring on Emmett Williams as co-instructor and editor while offering training to the students. Some of the students had a head start, having participated in Paul Fitzgibbons’ Cutting Edge News class. Though several additional students participated in some elements of the program, the five students who saw a film through to completion will also be given a $500 honorarium for their work.

When asked how the students hope to see the films distributed, Alisandra and Haley expressed that they’d like to see the films made widely and easily available to Alaskan audiences. The Island Institute will be working to get the films out to public television stations and online in the coming weeks.  Haley mentioned a MEHS alumni member who reached out to her. “She’s over in maryland and heard about it on KCAW and wants to see it now!”

Admission to the 6pm public screening is by donation. A private screening for Mount Edgecumbe High School staff and students will be held from 4:30-5:30pm.

The Island Institute plans to launch the second year of Our Alaskan Stories soon. For more information or to make a donation towards the program, visitwww.iialaska.org or call 907-747-3794.