Alaska Far Away: A popular film at the State Fair
As you enter the main entrance to the Alaska State Fair, look for the Wineck family barn. Grab a seat inside and travel back in time and watch a story unfold from the Great Depression.
“Alaska Far Away” was released almost 10 years ago, yet it still fills the folding chairs in the barn.
The Ken Burns-style documentary tells the story of 200 families who left their hardships behind in the Midwest and traveled 4,000 miles to Alaska to build new lives in the Matanuska Valley.
They were called colonists and settled on land near the fairgrounds. In fact, they were responsible for starting the fair.
When the federal government selected them for the resettlement project, they weren’t given much time to pack. But Uncle Sam was even more unprepared than they were. When the colonists arrived, tents that were supposed to be ready had not yet been built, so the colonists had to live in the train that brought them to their new home.
The settlers eventually moved into homes they built themselves and raised crops on land they first had to clear. It was a social experiment with mixed results.
It took Juster Hill Productions, a San Francisco company, more than 20 years to make “Alaska Far Away.”
Joan Juster first interviewed some of the original colonists and their children in 1994.
“At that point, the original colonists were in their 80s and 90s, and we couldn’t wait to capture their stories,” Juster said. “And I’m so glad we did.”
The story of the colonists, she says, is a “universal story of people looking for a better life.”
Juster realized this when she screened the film in Ireland and the audience reacted with strong emotions.
“If we hadn’t saved those stories, who would? They would have been lost,” Juster said. “Every day people walk into the Wineck barn at the fair and thank us for preserving the history and sharing this story.
This story is a preview of this Sunday’s Frontiers program, “Harvesting Alaska: Then and Now.” It airs on Sunday, Sept. 3 at 4:30 and 10:30 p.m. on KTVA-Channel 11.