Thursday, May 30, 2013

This Week: ALASKA FAR AWAY Returns to - Alaska!

In May, Alaska Far Away began playing on public broadcasting stations around the country. So far it has been seen by audiences in Oregon, Miami, Nashville, West Palm Beach, Vermont, the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa, Minnesota, and West Virginia, with another 65+ stations to come, coast-to-coast.

But this week, our film comes home to its roots: Alaska. Our presenting station, KAKM in Anchorage, is showing three prime-time broadcasts of Alaska Far Away this week:
Friday, May 31 at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, June 1 at 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, June 5 at 8:30 p.m.

All shows will be broadcast simultaneously on KTOO-TV in Juneau.
(Click here for the full roster of broadcasts these next two weeks, which includes stations in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, New York, and Wyoming.)

Coming home to the Alaska airwaves is particularly meaningful for us. Back in 1994, when all we had was a rough draft of a proposal for this film, the long-time manager of KAKM, Dick Enders, was kind enough to sit down and listen to our ideas, and give enthusiastic feedback. He also gave us a very valuable piece of advice: put "Alaska" in the title, right up front. He sent us on our way with his blessing and a letter of recommendation, and told us to come back when the film was finished.

Well, by the time we came back, 14 years later, Dick had retired. But KAKM did fulfill his promise: our first broadcast was in September 2010, breaking fundraising records during the station's fall pledge drive, with additional airings in December 2010 and 2011. We are happy and grateful to be invited back.

But KAKM did even more to help this year. In order for American Public Television to offer our film to their member stations, we had to have a "presenting station" step forward on our behalf. KAKM took that step, and we are deeply grateful to them for making it possible for us to share our film with millions of viewers across the country.

While many Alaskans have seen Alaska Far Away several times, there are always new audiences who haven't seen it yet, and for whom the story of the Matanuska Colony is new. So for our viewers old and new, we are happy to share Alaska Far Away with you. And don't forget: Colony Days celebrations are right around the corner in Palmer - may our film inspire you to join the festivities!

Top photo: Volunteers answering pledge phones at KAKM in September 2010. From KAKM web site
Bottom photo: Colonists Tony and Alys Vickaryous of Minnesota with their daughters Gerry and Tiny. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tonight in West Virginia: Alaska Far Away debuts in a state with rich New Deal history of its own

One of the points that people take away from watching Alaska Far Away is that the Matanuska Colony was just one of over 100 resettlement communities created around the country by Roosevelt's New Deal. Over and over we hear, "This is amazing! Why weren't we taught about this in school?"

Good question. If the New Deal is taught in schools at all, you may learn about the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Social Security, and maybe the Federal Theatre Project. But the New Deal created many other programs, large and small, to help people whose livelihoods had been destroyed by the Great Depression. For the most part, they were designed to be temporary programs, emergency measures designed to give people a boost so they could succeed on their own. Harry L. Hopkins, head of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration that created and administered many of these programs, was once taunted by his critics, who said these programs wouldn't work in the long run. But Harry - who had been a social worker and relief manager in New York, and knew first-hand the devastating effects of poverty - answered his critics by saying, "People don't eat in the long run. They eat every day."

Tonight (5/28) Alaska Far Away will make its debut in West Virginia (8:00 p.m.). West Virginia is home to another famous New Deal community, Arthurdale. Created in 1933 (pre-Matanuska) within a day's drive of Washington, D.C., and under the watchful eye of Eleanor Roosevelt herself, Arthurdale was the country's first New Deal Homestead Community. Arthurdale is now a National Historic District featuring 160 of the 165 original homesteads, and a center where visitors can learn about and celebrate the New Deal communities. If you're interested in New Deal history, be sure to visit during their annual New Deal Festival, which will be held this year on July 13.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Alaska Far Away returns to Minnesota

Alaska Far Away returns to Twin Cities Public Television tonight (Monday, May 27) at 9:00 p.m. CDT. 

On May 10, 1935, 67 families from Minnesota arrived in the Matanuska Valley of Alaska as part of a bold New Deal project. We have been privileged to meet and interview many of those original colonists during the course of making Alaska Far Away. In 1996, with support from the Minnesota Humanities Commission, we drove through Minnesota conducting research, and filming interviews. In Pine City we filmed Dorothy Bell and her daughter, Wanda Bell Showalter. Dorothy had brought her piano to Alaska; her husband brought his bee hives. In Cambridge, we talked to Donald Sundberg, who, at the tender age of 19, had been a social worker tasked with selecting families for the project. In Mora, we interviewed a "colony kid" who told us that money during the Depression was so tight that the kids weren't allowed to wear shoes during the summer; they had to save them for the winter. And in Duluth we interviewed a marvelous historian, Matti Kaups, who provided insights into the history and politics of the Cutover region that greatly enriched our film.

Since the release of Alaska Far Away in 2008, we have had the privilege of showing our film in Minnesota many times. We have criss-crossed the state, with live screenings in St. Paul, Winona, Cloquet, Duluth, International Falls, Wrenshall, Denmark Township, Ely, Fosston, Moose Lake and (right across the border from Minnesota), in Fargo. The broadcasts have taken place at film festivals, and in public libraries, historical societies large and small, a church, a converted funeral parlor, a 100-year old barn, and even a movie theatre! And at every screening, folks in the audience would come forward to let us know that members of their family were part of the Matanuska Colony in 1935.

Alaska Far Away has reached an even wider audience through public television, with broadcasts in 2011 on Twin Cities Public Television, Lakeland Public Television, and WDSE in Duluth. We are honored that all of these stations will be showing our film again this summer, with another Minnesota station joining the group:  Pioneer Public Television in Appleton. Stay tuned: we'll keep you posted when the other screenings are scheduled.

In the meantime, do we wish we could be in Minnesota with you tonight, watching on TPT? You bet.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Coming up next: Broadcasts in Georgia, Minnesota, West Virginia and....Alaska!

Here's the line-up of broadcasts for this week, and a link to today's email alert that you can share with your friends and family:

Thursday, May 23 at 1:00 a.m. EDT

Monday, May 27 at 9:00 p.m. CDT
Tuesday, May 28 at 3:00 a.m. CDT

Tuesday, May 28 at 8:00 p.m. EDT

Friday, May 31 at 8:00 p.m. AT
Saturday, June 1 at 8:00 p.m. AT
Wednesday, June 5 at 8:30 p.m. AT

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Where to Watch ALASKA FAR AWAY May 14-28

Here's the line-up of broadcasts for this week, and a link to today's email alert that you can share with your friends and family:

Tuesday, May 14 at 9:00 p.m. EDT 
(Repeated Wednesday May 15 at 3:00 a.m. EDT)
Miami - WLRN

Friday, May 17 at 9:00 p.m. CDT
Nashville - WNPT

Saturday, May 18 at 9:30 p.m. EDT
West Palm Beach - WXEL

Sunday, May 19 at 3:00 p.m., EDT
Vermont Public Television

Sunday, May 19 at 8:00 p.m. CDT
Quad Cities Public Television

Wednesday, May 22 at 1:00 a.m. EDT
Georgia Public Broadcasting

Monday, May 27 at 9:00 p.m. CDT
(Repeated Tuesday, May 28 at 3:00 a.m. CDT)
Twin Cities Public Television

 Tuesday, May 28 at 8:00 p.m. EDT
West Virginia Public Broadcasting 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Matanuska Colony Barns

Helen Hegener's eagerly-awaited book, The Matanuska Colony Barns, is available at last. This book is filled with over 200 beautiful photos of the barns which remain in the valley as the legacy of the Matanuska Colony. But that's not all. Helen conducted extensive research in the history of each of the barns, and into the history of barns in Alaska in general, in preparing this book. If you live in the Matanuska Valley or are part of a colony family, this book is a must-have addition to your colony collection. But it is also a marvelous book for anyone who loves and cares about barns - and those people are everywhere. Each summer as we show our films in the Wineck Barn at the Alaska State Fair, we meet people from all over who simply love barns.
Helen is giving a presentation about the Matanuska Colony Barns on Wednesday May 15 at the monthly Palmer Historical Society meeting. Oh, and she'll have books available for purchase!.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Matanuska Colony!

Seventy-eight years ago today, at 5:30 p.m. Alaska time, 67 tired, travel-sore, but very hopeful families from Minnesota stepped off the Alaska Railroad into the Matanuska Valley for the first time.

One of the "colony kids" who arrived that day, Patty Hemmer Weisenberger, described her family's arrival:
"We were standing on the back platform.  ...Daddy was holding Bobby Jo, and Tessie and Jack and I were standing there, so the train was going, you know, kind of screech to a halt, and he said, jump and you’ll be the first colonists in the valley. So Jack and I jumped, and we bounced and rolled down the embankment, and we still argue about who got to the valley first."

Two weeks later, the Minnesota colonists were joined by the families from Michigan and Wisconsin; all the families then got to draw lots for the 40-acre parcels of land where they would build their new homes. After their long journey from the Midwest to Alaska, the real adventure was just beginning.

We salute the colonists on this anniversary. It has been a privilege to share their stories with the world in our film Alaska Far Away.

The 75th anniversary poster above is based on a painting by Alaska artist Douglas Girard

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Upcoming broadcasts: Miami, Nashville, West Palm Beach, Vermont, Quad Cities...

Each day more public television stations are signing on to broadcast Alaska Far Away. We think we're up to 72 stations, and counting! Are you getting the latest news? If you "like" us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter, you will see updates as they happen. We also send alerts to our mailing list, so if you'd like to get the latest news delivered directly to your email in-box, please drop us a note at, and we'll add you to the list. During this busy broadcast period, we're sending weekly updates each Tuesday morning to let you know where Alaska Far Away will be shown that week.

Here's a link to today's email. Don't live in this week's broadcast areas? Maybe you have friends or family who do. Feel free to share this link so they can enjoy the show. Thanks!

(P.S. A reminder that we'll be talking about Alaska Far Away today (May 7) at 12:00 noon CDT on WORT-FM from Madison, Wisconsin. You can listen live from any computer.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Media alert for our friends in Madison, Wisconsin - or anyone anywhere with a computer and Internet access: John Quinlan, one of the hosts of WORT Radio's acclaimed talk show, "A Public Affair," has invited Joan Juster to be his guest on the show on Tuesday, May 7. Tune in at noon Central Time, for a lively discussion of Alaska Far Away and the many themes and issues raised by the film.

(Photo of John Quinlan by Stacy Harbaugh)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Today Oregon, tomorrow...

Thanks to Oregon Public Broadcasting for being the first of a rapidly-growing number of public television stations that have committed to showing Alaska Far Away this year. As of today we're up to 72 stations from coast to coast!

TODAY:  If you're in Oregon or southern Washington, you can watch our film May 5th at 7 p.m. (with a repeat broadcast for night owls on Friday at 5 a.m.). 

THIS WEEK:  Miami, Nashville, and West Palm Beach.

We're sending out weekly emails with the most up-to-date broadcast information. If your local station hasn't committed to showing Alaska Far Away, please write to the program manager to request it. Let us know if you get a response!

(P.S. We'd love to see photos of our viewers watching Alaska Far Away at home. Send us your photos - we'll post them!)