Reel Life Alaska: The Re-cap

This past Thursday night, we hosted our third Archives Month event of this October, “Reel Life Alaska,” a screening of archival film footage from our collections here at UAA Archives & Special Collections.

Arlene mans the popcorn machine

Reel Life Alaska poster announces the night

A small but lively crowd gathered in Room 307 of the Consortium Library to munch on popcorn, knock back a few rounds of sparkling cider (non-alcoholic, of course!), and take in our carefully-selected films.  The movies dated from 1926 to 1959 and included a few silent gems, which I valiantly attempted to narrate. Arlene made perfectly-popped bags of popcorn for the audience, while Mariecris played A/V technician, queuing up the films and acting as the evening’s photographer.

Here’s the full of what we screened for “Reel Life Alaska,” below.  Click on the title of each to view the guide to the collection that each of these came from.  (P.S. If you missed this event, you can always come and visit us during our public hours and view any or all of these films!)

Megan introducing the films for the night

“A Look At Alaska” (1959)

Edwin G. Beu, Jr. was born in 1926 and came to Alaska with his first wife, Marsha, and their family in 1957.  Ed worked first for the Anchorage Daily News as its advertising director and later for Anchorage radio station KFQD. In 1958-1959, he and Marsha shot a home movie entitled, “A Look at Alaska,” for their relatives and friends to show them why they had come to live in the state and to encourage others to come visit and possibly live here as well.  The Beus shot the film with a Revere 16mm Model 103 hand-held camera, and the soundtrack was created with the help of volunteers from KFQD, including narration by Allen Walters and sound by Scotty McCulloch.

Selections of footage from the Finley-Church Expedition to the Northland (1926)
In 1926, William L. Finley, a field naturalist, photographer, and director of wildlife conservation for the American Nature Association, his wife Irene, and Arthur N. Pack, president of the association, traveled to Alaska under the sponsorship of Campbell Church, Jr., founder of the The Alaska Coast Hunting and Cruising Company.  The expedition, known as the Finley-Church Expedition to the Northland, went to coastal British Columbia, the Bering Sea, Southeast Alaska, and the Kenai Peninsula, traveling on the “Westward,” a yacht designed and built by Church’s father, Campbell Church, Sr.  William Finley and Arthur Pack shot a series of motion picture films during this trip of Alaska’s wildlife and scenery. The section we screened depicts the expedition’s excursion to Glacier Bay and to Unimak Island in the Aleutians.

“The Ascent of Great Sitkin” (1949)
This film was made by explorer and anthropologist Ted Bank and his first wife, Jan, during their 18 months of exploration in the Aleutian Islands as members of the University of Michigan-Office of Naval Research Joint Aleutian Expedition. In 1949, the expedition climbed Great Sitkin Volcano on Great Sitkin Island, which is 5,709 feet high. (Just for some fun trivia, it is the 530th highest mountain in Alaska.) The purpose of the expedition was to gather ecological and geological data and examine the crater for the possibility of future catastrophic eruption. There were five members of the expedition: Ted as ethnobotanist and leader, Jan as field assistant and cook, two “military observers” from the Navy and Air Force, and one field assistant.

Selections from footage of Elinor Delight Gregg’s travels to Alaska (1936)
Elinor Delight Gregg was a supervisor of public health nursing for the Medical Division of the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1924 to 1939. In August through October 1936, she made a field trip to Alaska between July to visit many of the BIA nurses and observe the health of the native people.  This film, shot mostly by Gregg as well as her fellow travelers, follows Elinor on her travels, first aboard a steamship, North Star, that was run by the Department of the Interior, and later by bush plane.  The sections we showed followed her departure from Anchorage and her visits to Nome, Teller, Barrow, Point Hope, Point Lay, and Tetlin.

“Alaska’s Silver Millions” (1936)
Our final film was produced in 1936 by the American Can Company, a manufacturer of tin cans that operated until roughly 1986. “Alaska’s Silver Millions” intended to introduce audiences to the wonders of Alaska – and, most importantly, its rich salmon resources. To narrate the film, they procured Father Bernard Hubbard, a Jesuit priest who was also a renowned explorer, geologist, volcanologist, ichthyologist, oceanographer, and paleontologist – as one is. Father Hubbard’s nickname, as you’ll hear, was “The Glacier Priest,” a title he earned while climbing the Austrian Alps, and from 1927 to 1962, he led a total of 31 scientific expeditions to Alaska and the Arctic. During these expeditions, Hubbard took thousands of photographs and recorded his travels on motion picture film, some of which is included in this film we’re about to see. At the height of his popularity, Father Hubbard’s articles were published in magazines across the country, and he was once the world’s highest paid lecturer, receiving up to $2000 an appearance. This movie is a classic industrial film, detailing at length the process of fishing for and canning salmon.

Ed Beu's Revere camera