Local Filmmaker to Document Cook Inlet Trek

This is a story about stories.

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“I think that people like stories,” says adventurer Erin McKittrick. “If you’re trying to figure things out and trying to understand the world, stories are how people think.”

McKittrick is a born storyteller and her stories are pretty exciting.

Lituya, Erin, Katmai, and Hig. (Photo Courtesy of groundtruthtrekking.org)
Lituya, Erin, Katmai, and Hig. (Photo Courtesy of groundtruthtrekking.org)

“Well, to tell the story of the movie, I first have to tell my part of it, which was basically walking around Cook Inlet,” says McKittrick. “So, spring and summer of 2013, my husband and I and our two kids, who were four and two years old at the time, set out from basically the mouth of Cook Inlet, a little beyond Nanwalek Village, to walk and paddle pack rafts around and we did that.”

That three and a half month, 800 mile journey is the focal point of the film which is being made by Bjorn Olson.

“Hig and Erin shot footage and a lot of stills and Erin’s a fastidious journal keeper,” says Olson. “So, I have been entrusted with that material to turn that into a project.”

The project is headed by Ground Truth Trekking, Hig and Erin’s non-profit that Olson is a part of. It’s being funded through Kickstarter.

“I would like to go back and basically retrace their route and interact with the people they interacted with,” says Olson.

Those interactions center on a single question that Hig explains in the Kickstarter preview video.

“You know we had all our gear we were carrying; we also carried a question,” says Higman. “We asked pretty much anyone we met what they thought were the big changes in store for Alaska in the next 50 years or so, the next couple generations. [We were] trying to get out beyond that immediate political cycle, controversies of the moment.”

Erin says they got incredibly diverse answers. Some people told stories about their children, and education. Some talked about preserving traditional ways and the environment. She says it was a reflection of Cook Inlet in its entirety.

“It has so much diversity,” says McKittrick. “You know, almost every kind of community or place you might find in Alaska from the extremely wild, the parks that people rarely go to, to Anchorage, and everywhere in between – fish camps and little villages.”

That sentiment about this place in Alaska, this central nervous system of fishing, mining, oil and gas, metropolitan and rural lifestyles, gave the film and the journey its title.

“We called the trip the Heart of Alaska and the place really kind of encompasses everything you find in the state,” says McKittrick.

Those people and their ideas will be central to the film. Olson hopes it will portray Alaska’s communities in a thoughtful and even-handed way.

“I personally feel that we get bombarded with one side versus another on a lot of these issues,” says Olson. “Either you’re for this or you’re against this. Quite often, the situations and the issues are much more complex than just black and white.”

Erin says Heart of Alaska is about the nuance, the in-between, the journey.

“I don’t think the story is just about us but we’re the glue; we tie it together with footsteps,” says McKittrick. “It is the story of this family going out to learn things, but it’s also a story of the things we learned.”

And she hopes those stories will motivate other Alaskans to look to the future and question what it holds.