Friday, February 3, 2012

We're excited that Alaska Far Away is finally coming to Milwaukee Public Television (WMVT-TV Channel 36.1; Mon. 2/6 at 8; Sat. 2/11 at 12:30). This film has deep roots in Milwaukee.

When we first started working on Alaska Far Away in 1994, Milwaukee was the site of one of our first and most important interviews. We flew to Milwaukee to interview venerable journalist Arville Schaleben, Editor Emeritus of the Milwaukee Journal. Back in 1935, when he was just a cub reporter, the Journal tapped him to cover the story of a lifetime. They sent him to Alaska along with the 67 families who had been selected from Wisconsin's relief roles to take part in the bold New Deal experiment, the Matanuska Colony. Arville travelled over 4,000 with these Wisconsin families, and lived alongside them in the tent city for four months, filing stories almost daily that were not only printed in Milwaukee, but syndicated around the country. His body of work from Matanuska - over 150 stories and more than 400 photographs - was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Schaleben returned to the Matanuska Valley periodically throughout his life, following up on the story that he claimed was the best of his long career.

Our interview with Arville that day provided insights into the Matanuska Colony that added depth and richness to the film. His articles and photographs are used throughout the film to provide perspective and a sense of immediacy that only comes from such on-location reporting. We are deeply grateful to Arville Schaleben and his family for allowing us to share his work in our film.

One more Milwaukee note:  After visiting the offices of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in 1994 to talk to them about Alaska Far Away, the paper sent writer Jim Stingl and photographer Jim Gehrz to the Matanuska Valley. The resulting 10-page spread that appeared in the paper's Sunday supplement Wisconsin Magazine is a beautiful tribute to these New Deal Pioneers.