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After 30-plus years, Alaskan film re-released

By Lauren Maxwell 8:53 PM March 6, 2014

"Spirit of the Wind" won numerous awards when it was released in 1979

ANCHORAGE – Thirty years is a long time to wait for anything, but patience is finally being rewarded for fans of a classic Alaskan film.

“Spirit of the Wind” is the story of legendary musher George Attla.

The film won “Best Picture” at the Sundance Film Festival in 1979, but legal troubles kept it out of sight, until now.

Co-writer and director Ralph Liddle recently returned to Anchorage to promote the new DVD. He said it’s been totally remastered in high definition video.

“The version that’s available now is as beautiful as the very first prints that were made of it,” Liddle said. “I’m really proud of it.”

Liddle saw Attla race in the 1960s during Fur Rondy time and became captivated by his story and his character. Attla was diagnosed with tuberculosis as a boy and spent seven years in a Sitka hospital recovering. When he returned to his interior village, he struggled to fit in with Native culture.

Liddle said he was drawn to put it all on film.

“Growing up in the rural village, being taken into Sitka to deal with tuberculosis then back to his home,” he said. “Trying to readjust and find the link between his world and the modern world in dog racing — it just seemed like a beautiful story.”

Liddle shot the movie over an entire year with almost all locals who had never acted before, including the lead role. Every scene was shot in Alaska with the exception of one. Liddle had to go to a small town in Minnesota to recreate the final race down Fourth Avenue in Anchorage. The street was re-constructed after the 1964 earthquake and no longer has the look of 1958 when the race took place.

Liddle recently watched the film with an Anchorage audience for the first time in decades. He said their cheers and laughter let him know that despite the decades, the Alaskan story is as vital and entertaining as it ever was.

Copies of the DVD are on sale at the Alaska Native Heritage Center and also at the Fur Rondy Shop in Downtown Anchorage.

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