Saturday, March 9, 2013

Icebound Comes to the Silver Screen Breathing Life into the Rich History of Alaska, Sled Dogs, and the 1925 Serum Run

Production still courtesy of Icebound.
"In January 1925, more than 30 men and at least 150 dogs, battle storms and life-threatening cold weather in a daring relay of antitoxin across the frozen wilderness to save the children of Nome, Alaska from a deadly outbreak of diptheria…. The story of the Serum Rum is legend—a heroic testament to the human spirit, and to the indomitable achievements of the dogs of the far North. For the first time on film, the real story of the 1925 Serum Run, Alaska’s Race Against Death.” ~ Icebound,

One of the wonderful things about social networking is discovering new and interesting things. A reader of my FiveSibes: Siberian Husky K9 News & Reviews Facebook page and this blog mentioned to me awhile back about a movie in the making on the history of the 1925 Serum Run, the historical event commemorated each year by the Iditarod, that is now hitting the silver screen. I had the opportunity to talk with the filmmaker, Academy Award nominee Daniel Anker of Anker Productions in New York City, and I have since learned much about the film and how exciting and informative this movie is; and what a great educational tool it will be. And…what better time to bring you the news about Icebound than during the Iditarod 2013! Plus, Anker will be our guest on “The Sibe Vibe” on Sunday, June 23rd, so mark your calendars!

A sneak peek of Icebound:

Icebound is a feature documentary film about the Serum Run to Nome, Alaska and narrated by the actor, Sir Patrick Stewart. Anker wrote the script, along with Susan Kim and he produced it, along with co-producer Tiffany Peckosh. Anker says he was inspired to write it because he became “interested when friends of mine, Gay and Laney Salisbury, began working on their book, The Cruelest Miles, about a decade ago. The story seemed a perfect fit for a documentary film -- a small, wonderful narrative, through which larger stories about America and American culture could be revealed.  Right away I began working on getting funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). In the meantime, I was working on several other projects.  In 2007, we received a production grant from the NEH. I began shooting the film in 2008.” Anker notes that “there were about 40 or so crew members who worked on the film at various times. So it was definitely a group effort.” 

“One of our interviewees, the legendary musher George Attla, says in the film, if you take a dog over one trail, and then bring him back to the same trail five years later, he'll be able to find his way. ‘A dog never forgets.’  That to me was one of the most powerful things that anyone said.” ~Academy Award Nominee Daniel Anker, writer and 
producer of Icebound

Lead sled dog "Balto" and team.  
Throughout the film, actual residents of Alaska who lived through the event are interviewed. These first-hand accounts are so gripping as their stories pull us back in time and experience, via their words, what it as like during the diptheria epidemic and waiting for the medicine to arrive via sled dogs. Anker says that what made this historical event so interesting to him that he chose it to make a film about is because, “It is an incredibly rich story, not just because of what it reveals about the history of the Arctic regions, and about Alaska, but about so many other aspects of human culture, most specifically about dogs, and dog mushing.” Anker adds, “Also, more broadly about race relations in Alaska, about politics of the territory, about public health issues and epidemics, about the Gold Rush era, and about American culture and the rise of the modern newspaper culture of the 1920s, which really is what drove the story into the history books.” 

Production still courtesy of Icebound.
And how just how did he find the folks who remembered the Serum Run some 88 years ago? “That was my first priority - to find living witnesses to the events,” states Anker.  “Amazingly, there were about a dozen folks from Nome and the Interior villages who were in their 80's or 90's who lived through it and remembered it. Some I just interviewed off camera, but others made it into the film. This kind of sleuthing is one of my favorite things to do.” 

Courtesy of Icebound.
Listening to these people retell the stories they experienced is just incredible, and that is what comes across in this film that transports the viewer back in time. “Amazingly, what many remembered was how wrong the newspapers were, and how wrong the history books have recorded the event,” notes Anker. “Also, how many unsung heroes there were. The papers anointed the white mushers as the heroes of the event, but there were more than 30 native mushers who participated. Some of whom have never had their names recorded in the history books.”

Production still courtesy of Icebound.
Icebound is a real tribute to not only the mushers who made their way through the storm, but to the dogs as well. Says Anker, “I can't begin to describe how amazing it was to retrace some of the route with mushers -- Iditarod racer 
Production still courtesy of Icebound.
Aaron Burmeister, Bill Cotter, and their kennels in Nenana;  and then with a young musher in Unalakleet Donald Towarek and his dogs. I really came to understand the work they do, and the life-saving service they provided those who worked and lived in the Far North at that time. One of our interviewees, the legendary musher George Attla, says in the film if you take a dog over one trail, and then bring him back to the same trail five years later, he'll be able to find his way. ‘A dog never forgets.’  That to me was one of the most powerful things that anyone said.” 

Production still courtesy of Icebound.
Funding for this movie includes the NEH grant, as well as support from other sources including the Ramuson Foundation, The Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance, The Atwood Foundation, The Alaska Humanities Forum, The Bering Straits Native Corporation, Dr. Mary Totten, the Gottstein Family Foundation, and Gana-A’Yoo Ltd. Anker explains, “This has been an incredibly difficult film to fund. We've gotten support from some Alaskan sources, in addition to the first grant from the NEH. But, these days, unless a film has an overt social or political message, it does not qualify for the usual documentary film grants.” 

Production still courtesy of Icebound.

A “crowd-funding” has been set up for Icebound. Explains Anker, “After years of trying to raise much-needed funds, I just decided to finish the film finally and get it done. The crowd-funding effort is critical to our releasing the film, as it will pay for all of the rights costs related to the use of archival material, music, still images, etc. Donations as little as $10 or $25 will go a long way.” 

Production still courtesy of Icebound.

Individuals and businesses alike may contribute to this film by visiting : All donations are welcome. With a donation of $10, one will receive updates on releases and special events; $25 will result in a “thank you” on the film’s website; $50 will result in a “thank you” on the film’s website and a signed publicity photo; $100 donation will receive two tickets to the movie’s premiere in Alaska and a “thank you” on the website. A complete list of noted donation amounts and corresponding tokens of appreciation are listed on the films website.

Sled dog "Togo"
“I believe there is wonderful educational value in the film,” states Anker about this film that covers historical content and stories about the sled dogs, mushing, and about the Alaskan natives. “We trace the story of 'Balto' (the famous sled dog) in the film, and explore how the tabloid media, and the rush to print sensationalist stories, led to the deification of just one of the 150 heroic dogs in the run." (Sled dog “Togo” was among those sled dogs who also played an important role).

“If you are a resident of Alaska,” Anker asks folks to “contact your representative in Juneau to urge them to support an initiative that would support screenings of the film throughout the state, and an educational initiative that would bring Icebound into schools.”

Icebound will be launched in the United States this spring at film festivals, and will be used for an animal rights fundraiser in New Jersey in April. The film is already scheduled for broadcast release in England, France, and Germany, including a screening at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam.

Please sign up for the Icebound mailing list HERE.  

To keep up-to-date on Icebound, follow the Facebook page HERE.

Production still courtesy of Icebound.
*Balto & Togo photos courtesy of The Carri McLain Memorial Museum,Nome; provided by Icebound.

A little about Icebound’s filmmaker, Daniel Anker:

Anker’s credits include SCOTTSBORO: AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, for which he received an Oscar nomination and an Emmy Award, MUSIC FROM THE INSIDE OUT, a documentary featuring the Philadelphia Orchestra which enjoyed a successful theatrical run and was a finalist for the International Documentary Association's Distinguished Feature Award, and the acclaimed film IMAGINARY WITNESS: HOLLYWOOD AND THE HOLOCAUST, for the BBC and AMC, which has been shown widely around the world. He has several new projectes in the works, including Icebound. A veteran producer of national programming for PBS, Anker’s credits are many, including being the producer for three seasons of PBS broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera. He also produced the Peabody Award-winning series, MARSALIS ON MUSIC. Anker is co-author of a curriculum based on his film, MUSIC FROM THE INSIDE OUT, published by Alfred Music Publishing and used in school districts around the country. He has spoken widelyat conferences and seminars on film and filmmaking, music education, the Holocaust, civil rights history, and other topics related to his work. He recently served as advisor for the Sundance Institute film composer workshop in Utah. Awards and honors include a Peabody Award, four national Emmy Award nominations, the Erik Barnouw Award from the Organization of American Historians, and multiple grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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  1. Amazing that a documentary has not already been made of this! Definitely want to see it!

  2. Always love a way to learn more about sled dogs. Seems so many have an opinion, but few have taken the time to do the research and share it with others. I want to view Icebound for sure. Thanks for posting. Happy Saturday pet blog hop!

  3. What a beautiful picture of Balto we have written about him on our blog and cant wait to see a documenteary. We have also visited the statue in central park, I hope the doc will give all of the dogs credit, Im partial to Togo

    urban hounds mm

  4. Hi Y'all!

    Great review y'all!

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  5. I don't know who you folks are but did see that, like me, you were following the Iditarod. I live in Sault Saint Marie, MI and receive 9&10 News somewhere in Manistee the officials have picked up many dogs from a home that was abusing these dogs. They showed huskies and huskie puppies (made me cry for the babies). The owner said they were sled dogs, which the police official stated they could not hardly move let alone pull a sled. These beautiful but abused dogs are now housed at the Manistee animal shelter. Just wondered if you or someone you know could help with these wonderful dogs. The shelter vet said the dogs can't be released until they are strong enough. Please help if you would be appreciated. Thanks...judie wolfe at