Be a Champion for ATTLA: A New Documentary Film

George Attla. Courtesy photo by Stacia Backensto
George Attla. Courtesy photo by Stacia Backensto

Catharine Axley is seeking funding for new documentary film on legendary dog musher, George Attla II. Catharine is a film student at Stanford University working on her masters in documentary film. She traveled to Alaska last summer and fell in love with the state, and with George’s dog mushing program for youth.

Learn about the project on Catharine’s Kickstarter fundraising campaign page site.

Catharine says, “I found it so fascinating and inspiring.” She met George and found him to be a very dynamic person. He was ‘larger than life’ and Catharine was impressed to see that he started the youth dog mushing program. Catharine says, “He is pioneering something really remarkable.” She looked through archival and current footage and saw the potential for a great documentary.

As of Sunday, November 9th, Catharine has raised $12,181, and her stretch goal is $14,500 by November 12th. She is only $2,319 away from her overall goal! The funding will allow her to make three trips to Huslia to film George, his mushing protege and the program.

Catherine is confident in the project and says, “We know we were going to make this happen.” George is 81 years old and not getting any younger, and he is also training a new musher. Huslia is my hometown and George is my dad’s uncle. He is family and I’m glad to see someone taking the initiative to capture the rich dog mushing history in Huslia.

Frank Attla Youth and Sled Dog Care Program. Courtesy photo by Stacia Backensto
Frank Attla Youth and Sled Dog Care Program. Courtesy photo by Stacia Backensto

Catharine has been surprised and grateful for the support she has received so far. The goal was $5,500 to cover one trip with an extended goal of raising enough for one-two more follow-up trips. Catharine says people from all over the world have been reaching out to her via the campaign page to support her and to share their own “George Attla” stories. There was a Swedish man who said his dogs are descendants of George’s dog, Lingo.

Why should people support the Kickstarter campaign to make this documentary? Catharine says, “It’s a great way to be a part of it, and people will gain insight into how the film is being made.” People who donate will receive project updates, and can get benefits based on their level of giving. Catharine sees the Kickstarter donors as the team behind the project, no matter the size of their contribution. I donated $35.00 for the project.

Kickstarter Page
George Attla – Making of A Campaign website
ATTLA documentary film on Facebook

Catharine is looking for home movies and photos of George Attla and his mushing history. She plans to add some archival footage in the documentary. Catharine offered to transfer any VHF tape footage of George for free. If you have some archival video footage or photos, please get in touch with Catharine at catharine.axley@gmail.com.

Be a part of this great documentary film about the Huslia Husler, George Attla. Make your contribution by November 12th. You have the opportunity to be a champion of the project and be a part of the team to push Catherine over the edge and then some!

Alaska life

Where to Buy the Spirit of the Wind DVD

Spirit of the Wind – Movie about George Attla Re-released
Spirit of the Wind – Movie about George Attla Re-released

The Spirit of the Wind movie has been re-released on DVD. Check out this story from KTVA: After 30-plus years, a film about legendary musher George Attla is re-released: http://bit.ly/MSQFHo. You can see a few clips from the movie on the story. The director reworked the color in the film and it looked great on the screen.

Where to buy Spirit of the Wind
Alaska Native Heritage Center
– Anchorage
Fur Rondy Shop – Anchorage
Jade Boutique – Fairbanks / Follow them on Facebook

Jade Boutique owners Cari Mayo and Georgia Attla are proud to be selling the DVD about their grandpa. They are also selling Spirit of the Arctic DVD, a timeless northern journey of natural sounds and images with Native voices and music.

“It’s a film about Alaska Native people.” -Steven Alvarez, Alaska Native Heritage Center

The Alaska Native Heritage Center held a re-release reception and showed the movie followed by a question and answer period. It was great to see the movie on the screen. Director Ralph Liddle and the actor who played Pius Savage answered questions after the movie.

“It’s a film that saves lives.” – Ralph Liddle, director, Spirit of the Wind

Ralph Liddle loves the sport of dog mushing. He described George Attla as “larger than life, charismatic.”

According to Ralph, the leader of the team was a big star. Apparently, she won races for George and also for Carl Huntington. Ralph said, “She was a house dog, not high strung.” Pius said, “She was a good actress and she knew her stuff.”

“Running those dogs was breathtaking.” – Pius Savage, actor, Spirit of the Wind

Pius Savage and Ralph Liddle answer questions at an event at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Pius Savage and Ralph Liddle answer questions at an event at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

During the Q&A period, I learned a few things from behind the scenes.

Behind-the-Scene Facts

  • George Attla’s actual dogs were used in the movie.
  •  They only had enough funds for two big name stars. Slim Pickens and Chief Dan George were the big stars.
  • Slim Pickens loved that old snow-machine featured in the movie, and it was affectionately named, “Amigo”. Slim loved it so much that he had it sent to him in California.
  • Many of the aerial shots were from a helicopter. The pilot was a Vietnam veteran. He flew so close to the ground at one point that the camera man’s feet were touching the tops of the trees.
  • Pius Savage was chosen for the lead role because he not only looked the part, but was also a pilot.
  • It was shot in 35 mm film. It was a low-budget film.
  • Rose Ambrose (George’s actual sister) played his mother in the film. After the movie, she was offered a part in a mini-series on Huns in China. Despite being offered $5,000 per week for five weeks, she turned the role down. At the time, she was a health aide in Huslia, and couldn’t leave her job.

It was touching to learn things about behind the scenes. It was great to see people in the movie. It is a great piece of history to cherish. Like many others, I hope the film touches and inspires a whole new generation.

What was the your favorite part of the movie? How has it touched and inspired you? Comment below.

Alaska life

Spirit of the Wind – Movie about George Attla to be Re-released

George Attla II was recently at an Alaska Sports Hall of Fame event where he signed autographs for new and old fans. Marlene Watson (Navajo) is a new fan. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
George Attla, Jr. was recently at an Alaska Sports Hall of Fame event where he signed autographs for new and old fans. Marlene Watson (Navajo) is a new fan. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

The Spirit of the Wind movie is being re-released this year and will be available for purchase on DVD! The movie is based on the life story of Athabascan dog musher, George Attla, Jr. of Huslia. Attla was able to overcome tuberculosis and win many dog mushing races, including the Fur Rondy sprint races. Attla has left his mark as a dog mushing champion through hard work, dedication, staying focused, staying competitive and overcoming obstacles and challenges. He is my dad’s uncle, so I’ve heard a lot of dog talk over the years. Attla is revered and respected by people all over Alaska, US, Canada and even beyond.

Three decades later, Alaskans will finally get a chance to see ‘Spirit of the Wind’ by Suzanna Caldwell via Alaska Dispatch:

The Alaska Native Heritage Center will hosted a re-release event for the movie in conjunction with the 2014 Fur Rondy.  A reception with refreshments, a special screening of the film, and for the first time a limited number of DVDs will be on sale to the public at this event!

While you won’t be able to buy it in Anchorage, you can buy it from Jade Resale Boutique in Fairbanks (729 1st Avenue, phone 907-479-5233). Jade Resale Boutique is owned by George Attla’s granddaughters.

I enjoyed hearing Martin Buser's story about George Attla, Jr.
I enjoyed hearing Martin Buser’s story about George Attla, Jr.

I met Iditarod musher Martin Buser a couple of years. It seems like whenever I say I’m from Huslia, people have stories to share about George Attla. Martin said he has learned some of the most important dog mushing lessons from George in the fewest amount of words. Martin visited George once and complained about the dogs not listening to him and running off the trail, etc. George said, “Who’s driving?” Martin said that was an important lesson for him. Yep, that’s a great lesson!

It will be great to show this classic movie to my children so they can see what it was like to grow up in interior Alaska in Athabascan country. Attla continues to race occasionally. He helps to run a Frank Attla Youth & Sled Dog Care program in memory of his late son. Through the program, he is able to pass on his knowledge and lifelong experience to the younger generation. It is great to see how the youth are discovering dog mushing. There are many valuable lessons to be learned from taking care of dogs, training them and taking on life’s challenges. They are catching the dog mushing fever!

George Attla II raced in the Cue Bifelt Memorial Dog Race in Huslia in 2013. Photo by Al Yatlin, Sr.
George Attla II raced in the Cue Bifelt Memorial Dog Race in Huslia in 2013. Photo by Al Yatlin, Sr.

About George Attla, Jr.
George Attla, Jr. is Athabascan and is from the northwest community of Huslia, Alaska. The legendary open-class sprint dog racer has won more Fur Rendezvous World Championships (10 wins) than any other musher to date. He won eight North American World Championships and nine International Sled Dog Racing Association unlimited class metals. His book, Everything I know about Training and Racing Sled Dogs, is still considered the musher’s bible. His life story became the subject of a film, Spirit of the Wind and a book of the same title has been published. In 2000 he was awarded the Best Musher of the 20th Century. In 2007, he was inducted into the first Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. 2008 marked his 50th year of competitive sled dog racing. In April 2011, he won the Bergman Sam Memorial Koyukuk River Championship in Huslia.

Find more information about George Attla, Jr., please visit: http://attlamakingofachampion.com/.