"But the most remarkable thing about the story, and the one that makes it both educational for kids and a movie adults will enjoy, is how some very divergent human interests work together for the whales. From an oil-drilling Good Old Alaska Boy (played to the hilt by Danson), who ‘volunteers’ an ice-breaking barge (mostly to bolster his reputation), to one changemaking official in the Reagan administration, to the National Guard, and the local people of the small town of Barrow, Alaska, everyone helps out. The most fascinating, and difficult-to-navigate POV was that of the native Inupiat people, who are best known for their fight to be allowed to hunt whales. Writers get the kudos here, as the audience sees how the tribe makes the decision to help the rescue effort, instead of eating the whales, a deft piece of storytelling about native people’s choices and challenges, and one we almost never see in Hollywood movies.”
i am happy for this major motion picture that shows our relationship to the sea. it is a beautiful thing. cheers, my friends.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to preface this review by admitting that as a resources specialist with an Alaska Native organization that exists primarily to protect Native subsistence rights, I have butted heads and been at odds with national and international environmental groups.
I had a very reputable group’s staffer whom I was working with nicely say to his boss — right in front of me — “We’ve got our Native!” in such a way that I almost walked off before a press conference where we were, for once, united in a cause. I also think that the state should be doing a lot more to diversify our economy rather than depend on an industry that is responsible for over 85 percent of the State’s revenues.
However, I am also a huge movie buff. I’ve loved Drew Barrymore since “E.T.” and almost every vehicle she’s been in. I loved “Cheers,” so I’d enjoy Ted Danson (himself a rather active oceans environmentalist.) Tim Blake Nelson from “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” Dermot Mulrony in anything, and so on. It is a rather impressive cast and it was exciting to follow the casting and production process of what was then “Everybody Loves Whales” through my friends in-the-know on Facebook. The movie centers on the international spectacle that unfolded in October 1988, when a family of gray whales were iced-in near Barrow before their migration to their wintering waters of California.
My friend Tara Sweeney’s son, Ahmaogak, plays Nathan. The character is actor John Krasinski’s side-kick and the grandson of Malik, the whaling captain. The captain, longtime performer John Pingayak, is from my mother’s Qissunamiut Tribe of Chevak. My buddy John Chase plays a whaling leader named Roy. It is really neat to say there are too many more to name, as many locals were hired for every facet of the project.
I was a freshman in high school when this was happening. Many of us, as Alaskans, felt curious about the predicament, but never imagined such an expensive and exhausting rescue mission would unfurl.
Hindsight is 20/20 and a script makes it easier to deliver a sense of certainty when there wasn’t any. It is curious to see how this plays out in capturing the hearts and minds of the world with the help of the media, election year politics and an opportunity to draw back the Iron Curtain between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. I fell into an opportunity to sit in on a screening of the film in New York on Tuesday night. The tickets were free, as was the popcorn and drink. Before the movie began, the Universal team announced to the audience that Drew Barrymore was going to be joining us after the movie for a little Q&A session.
The movie opens with a whaling hunt in progress, though the scene cuts away before the killing strike. It shows village life, as village as it can be in a liberally sunlit fall-time Barrow. Krasinski, as Adam Carlson, an Anchorage reporter dispatched to cover some outpost stories, asks a visitor to consider the contrast of a $400 dollar house next to a $400 million dollar school, highlighting the dichotomy of living conditions in an oil rich area. This kind of helps set up the underlying premise that whaling, in general, is the real lifeblood of village life as opposed to oil being the economic engine.
The reporter chances upon the whales out on the frozen horizon and Carlson’s subsequent video feed provides a closing for Tom Brokaw’s NBC evening news, bringing the whale’s plight to every American living room. Gray whales aren’t designed like the bowheads to use their heads to keep ice from freezing above them, so the already distressed whales are visibly beat up from the effort to keep their air hole open. The Inuit are first to maintain the opening, while they consider what kind of action to take in addressing this predicament.
Even as they speak of making an exception to harvest the whales (grays are not a traditional food source) they care for the whales as any good stewards of a resource are wont to do. School kids, animal lovers, locals, and even an oil executive’s wife all come together with Greenpeace activist Drew Barrymore (playing Alaskan protagonist Rachel Kramer) to press fictional Governor Haskell (omitting Gov. Steve Cowper) to engage the National Guard. Once the oil company and Greenpeace’s $2 million dollar plan to use two huge fuel-sucking helicopters, an icebreaking barge the size of a football field, biologists, pilots, North Slope Borough employees and Prudhoe Bay oil field crews working 24 hours a day fails, President Reagan is brought into the act, deepening his relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
As a cynical policy wonk in an oil-and-gas state with massive competing environmental interests, it is pretty funny to see Ted Danson’s corporate character duke it out with manipulative and monied interests that Drew represents, and throw in calculated Reagan/Bush Sr. electorate considerations in the mix. The beauty of this storyline is that while everybody loves whales, everybody is getting something out of this ordeal.
One of the most interesting side stories in this ‘inspired by a true story’ film is the real-life love story that developed in the most cinematic way — a transcontinental spark between a Reagan aide charged with monitoring the National Guard’s efforts under the officer in charge. Their names have been changed in the movie, but Bonnie Mersinger (played by Vinessa Shaw) and Alaska National Guard Brig. Gen. Tom Caroll (Dermot Mulroney) actually married a year after the rescue. Bonnie, who had been talking with the abrupt officer on the phone, decided she was going to marry him before they ever met face-to-face. She flew to Alaska to assist in seeing that the joint American-Soviet mission succeeded. Sadly, Tom Caroll and seven others were killed in a 1992 crash of an Army C-12 plane in Alaska.
From a Native’s perspective, I was curious to see the scene Kotzebue resident John Chase spoke about shooting with Drew Barrymore. In that moment, cultures would clash over the value of the whales. I tensed when it came up, since I knew Barrymore’s Greenpeace character was going to have to be, shall we say, a little insulting and insensitive to the whaling culture. And she was. John’s character, the whaling captain Roy, was rightfully testy but delivered an impassioned rationalization for hunting, along with a lesson that there is a relationship between the Inuit and the whales that can’t be taught or relatable in glossy environmental pamphlets.
John Pingayak, pulling off a thoughtful and respectful leader, showed throughout the film that whalers consider the spirit and well-being of the marine mammals even when outsiders just see the ‘take’ in consumption.
The whales are portrayed in a mix of real wild footage, actual rescue footage, animatronics, models and digital manipulation. They were shot to show the eyes a lot, so that we could see a soul, a family and trust. Drew’s dedication and humble empathy for the whales distress was convincing, as it was from the rest of the cast. It was not a comedy, it was not a dramatization, it was not a love story, but all those touchstones were there. Alaskans will have to try and disengage their historical lens, and just enjoy the movie for what it should be, a feel-good family flick that we can watch over and over again.
When Drew Barrymore came out following our test screening, she seemed tiny and sweet. Her hair was the same as in the movie but she wasn’t as au natural, she looked like the Cover Girl she is.
I jumped up at the opportunity to be the first to say something, and that was to make sure and thank her for her efforts to do as much business and filming in Alaska as the project called for. She said she felt it was important for authenticity and that she was glad she did it. If only Dermot Mulroney’s upcoming film with Liam Neeson, “The Grey,” did the same.
“The very purpose of spirituality is self-discipline. Rather than criticizing others, we should evaluate and criticize ourselves. Ask yourself, what am I doing about my anger, my attachment, my pride, my jealousy? These are the things we should check in our day to day lives.”—Dalai Lama
i have blogger’s block, i believe. i’d like to post stuff on here, but nothing is really happening around town that’s worth blogging about. its cold (-28F/-45F windchill) and there’s not really much happening around town.
there’s some exciting stuff happening out of town though! tuesday was the NYC premiere for 'big miracle.' yesterday was the DC premiere. this coming sunday, there’s the anchorage premiere and the wednesday after that is the LA premiere!
saima and i will be attending the anchorage showing on sunday and we’re flying down to palm springs on monday. our next door neighbor, darce, is living down there with our daughter-dog minnie. that wednesday, is the LA show. i scored four extra tickets, so i plan to take coltrane, clara, saima, and darce to the show. should be a great time!
so there, now you know why i haven’t posted much to eskimo power.
lastly, i’m happy to report my good friend princess said my performance in the movie was solid. my other friend caitlin said i “rocked it.” my other friend michelle can improve on her descriptive words, so her report was pretty bland (michelle, don’t get sensitive). my other friend anwar said it was a great movie. his woman andrea said, “Loved it! You really are a Eskimo Rock Star!” i can’t wait to see 'big miracle.'
perhaps when we’re out of town, i will be motivated to post more on here. good day to you.
KOTZEBUE, ALASKA—right now, at 9:00am, its -30F. the wind is blowing 5 miles per hour from the east north east. this brings the temperature to -45F with windchill.
i knew it was pretty cold when our car’s auto-start wouldn’t start the car. we have a oil pan heater and a trickle-cell battery charger plug-in for the car, but it still wouldn’t start. i had to go outside and manually start the car.
when i drove to work, i could feel the flat imprint on one tire—felt like i was driving on a flat. when it gets so cold out, your tires ‘freeze,’ which creates a flat imprint on the tire where the rubber meets the road. the tire felt like that all the way to work, all 1.2 miles to the office.
the temperature outside is classic february weather. there’s a two week window where the temperature does not get warmer than -40F. bundle up, its cold out there!
“Environmentalists are a socialist group of individuals that are the tool of the Democrat Party. I’m proud to say that they are my enemy. They are not Americans, never have been Americans, never will be Americans.”—Don Young, Congressman from Alaska
the 2012 kuskokwim 300 winner will cross the finish line this morning!
the kuskokwim 300 sled dog race is in full swing and the winner will cross the finish line sometime this morning!
rohn buser, paul gebhardt, and kotzebue’s own john baker are the three leaders of the k300. i’m rooting for john baker. go, john!
"Rohn Buser, Paul Gebhart and John Baker are officially out of Tuluksak and have their sights set on Bethel. K300 Glory and a hefty payday await the winner of this three way clash. Click here to follow along live.