The Anchorage International Film Festival kicked off Friday night, with the premier of a movie shot right here in our home state. “Sugar Mountain” was the last film made under the tax incentive program, which the state ended due to budget issues.


“Sugar Mountain” was shot in Seward, and featured the town and its people. Among them was Kristi Larson, who drove up to Anchorage to attend the premier at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub.


“I just knew it was going to be a big night for Seward,” she said.


Part of the reason the director chose Seward for the shoot was the tax breaks provided by the incentive program. Larson said she saw that money go right back into the community.


“It boosts the economy all the way around,” she said. “There were businesses open in our small town in the winter that accommodated them, and catering and houses.”


The Alaska Film Production Tax Credit Program ran from 2008 through June 2015, when Gov. Bill Walker signed legislation officially ending the program. During that time, the state spent around $40 million on subsidies. Filmmakers could receive subsidies for hiring Alaskans to work on their movies. There were also incentives to shoot during the winter and in rural locations. The drop in oil prices and Alaska’s economic crisis made the program too expensive in many legislators’ minds.


But Anchorage International Film Festival director Rebecca Pottebaum said the incentive program offered exposure for Alaska, both to tourists outside who saw our state on the screen and to those already living here.


“When ‘Sugar Mountain’ came to Seward, I doubt that there is any single person that did not help on that production or gain some sort of skills as production techs or different things like that,” Pottebaum said.


Movie making also drew talent to the state, like actor Drew Roy, who agreed to be in the film in large part due to its location.


“Alaska really was one of the big draws,” he said.


For Roy and actress Haley Webb, filming in the state where the story was set helped inspire their performances.


“It helped infuse my acting and my character, who is supposed to be from Alaska, with a real depth and rootedness,” Webb said.


“It really is its own character and it adds such a depth to the film,” Roy said.


The film festival is one way Alaska filmmakers are fighting to keep the industry alive. It kicked off Friday, Dec.2 and runs for 10 days. There are more than 100 movies from 25 different countries showing at four locations. You can buy tickets for each show individually or get a pass for the whole festival on the event’s website.


KTVA 11’s Bonney Bowman can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.