Kenny Lake Students Premiere Historical Railway Documentary

Students in the award-winning documentary filmmaking program at Kenny Lake School, a small K-12 school in the rural town of Copper Center, Alaska, recently premiered their 90-minute documentary Iron Rails: The Story of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway.

The film, which was supported by a 2010 Alaska Humanities Forum We the People grant of $6,000, has won first place in the Alaska Society for Technology in Education (ASTE) 2012 documentary film contest.

Here’s a synopsis of Iron Rails from the Kenny Lake School website:

The Copper River and Northwestern Railway was a remarkable engineering achievement on a scale that rivaled the Alaska Highway and the Alaska Pipeline. Join us as we take you on a wild ride that explores how two men — Mike Heney and Erastus Hawkins — dreamed and succeeded in building a railroad through some of the wildest country on earth. These two men and 6,000 of their workers battled against conditions and forces that made the skeptics shake their heads, including quicksand, glaciers, and the unruly Copper River. […]

Shot on location in Kennecott and along the mighty Copper River, this documentary will inspire and awe you. For two years, 13 students researched the railway, developed a script, and filmed the majestic country of the Copper River from the mountains surrounding Kennecott, all the way to Cordova.

An excerpt from Iron Rails:

Iron Rails completes a trilogy of full-length documentaries produced by Kenny Lake students covering three major events that fundamentally shaped the rich history of the Copper Basin Region as well as the current lives of its residents.

The first documentary, Bonzana: The Story of Kennecott, was released in 2007. It focuses on the history of the Kennecott Mines near present day McCarthy, Alaska. The second film in the trilogy, Stampede!, tells the story of the 1898 Valdez Gold Rush. It was completed in 2009.

An excerpt from Stampede:

The Alaska Humanities Forum supported Bonzana and Stampede! with grants of $3,000 each.

All three films were created under the guidance of Kenny Lake technology and history teacher Raymond Voley, who was named Alaska Teacher of the Year in 2008 by the State of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. (Also in 2008, Voley was named Alaska History and Cultural Studies Teacher of the Year by the Alaska Humanities Forum.)

“Our documentaries have been an incredible motivator for my students, and a source of pride for our community,” says Voley. “I have several students who are dedicating their lives to film studies, and committed to telling Alaska’s stories using Alaskans – not Hollywood types.”

Iron Rails was produced in consultation with U.S. Park Service Historian Dr. Geoff Bleakly.

Last June, Voley and 11 students on the Iron Rails documentary team undertook a six-day, 80-mile rafting expedition on the Copper River during which they collected on-scene video footage for the documentary they had spent the past year researching and scripting. The Bureau and Land Management and Wrangell St. Elias National Park provided six rafts and boatmen. National Park District Ranger Pete Dalton led the trip.

More than 200 residents of the Copper Basin Region attended the May 19 premiere of Iron Rails, traveling to Copper Center from communities throughout the vast and sparsely population region, including McCarthy, Valdez and Glennallen.

For DVD copies of Iron Rails, Bonzana and/or Stampede!, please contact Raymond Voley at 907.822.3870 or, or fill out the request form at the bottom of the page here.

Workers clearing rockfall in one of dozens of historical photographs featured in Iron Rails. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Geoff Bleakley)
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The Alaska Humanities Forum engages Alaskans in humanities-based projects and innovative programs which are either funded by the Forum or run directly by the Forum.

The mission of the Alaska Humanities Forum is to use the wisdom and methods of the humanities to enrich the civic, intellectual and cultural life of all Alaskans.

The Forum is a 501(c)(3) organization. Founded in 1972 by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Forum is one of 56 state and territorial groups also supported by the NEH. The Forum is also a member of the Federation of State Humanities Councils.