• Deborah Holmén

It Took Alaska...

Updated: Nov 21, 2017

Research for the movie Angel of the Forty Mile received the 2016 Nevada Arts Council Jackpot Grant.

I don't regret going to Alaska.  It taught me so much about my intuition and those that suffer from mental illness. I feel this journey only made me a better writer exploring the human experience.

Signs Like a Totem Pole

The plane landed in Anchorage without delay. I wasn't sure what to expect from my first views of Alaska after researching it for the past five months. Green, lush pine groves, tall snow laden mountains and large blue skies would be the backdrop for my first feature film.

Krystal had already grabbed her backpack and was bubbling over with anticipation and a little apprehension. Would this be the same Alaska she knew 25 years ago? I was to write her life story, a feature film about the events that led her back to the man who broke her heart so many years ago and the woman she had now become.

It was a story of survival and redemption.  I was excited that this movie could launch Krystal's career as a Life Coach. Little did I know that this trip would be a shocking discovery of broken dreams, harsh realities and a tattered soul.

The First Sign

We pulled out of the rental car parking lot with our list of supplies we needed, since we would be camping in extremely remote areas. We would be traveling over 2,000 miles from Anchorage to Homer, then on to Fairbanks and Chicken, Alaska in 21 days. We would be camping most of the way so our transportation would become more than a convenience, but an essential part of our comfort and safety.

We went to several homes of people following Cool Beans Films on Facebook to pick up supplies they so generously donated for our trip. We had over ten thousand followers watching our journey unfold, and their support was tremendous.

My first order of business was to stop by the Alaska Film  Commission to pick up pertinent information I would present to interested studios. No one answered the phone, so I checked the website. I was in utter disbelief when I saw the words, "Governor Signs Bill to End Film Tax Credit."

My stomach dropped. At that moment I knew I should have halted the project, since creating a movie in a state that doesn't support film incentives was impractical. However, when I told Krystal that this journey should be cut short, the look of desperation on her face made me continue out of friendship.  If anything, she could put her ghosts behind her, and I could acquire location shots. I also had the grant to fall on for a little financial support.

A place doesn't identify us. We identify with the memories and the emotions of a place.

The trip from Anchorage to Homer was uneventful. The scenery was breathtaking as Alaskan fjords rival any in the world. I had Krystal linearly tell her story from her meeting Dan to her arrival in Alaska when she had made plans to move there for him. She was 22 and crazy in love with Dan, a captain of a small fishing fleet. Dan had flown down from Alaska to attend his sister's wedding in California where Krystal was a bride's maid. Dan and Krystal hit it off, and a summer romance unfolded.  She spent that summer in Alaska, and then went up during her winter break that December. It was then Krystal knew she found the place she wanted to call home and the man she wanted. However, it wouldn't turn out to be the fairy tale she had hoped.

Krystal arrived young and in love with a man who had other plans. She told me how she wanted to die when she found out he was moving in with another woman and planned to marry. My heart felt the pain she must have gone through. She had put everything into Dan, expecting him to take her away from a life that was full of trauma and isolation.

We pulled into Homer that morning, five hours after landing. The crisp air in July was invigorating and clear. I pulled the car over to get location shots of the Spit; a long finger of land that jutted out from the town of Homer that would be our home for the next week.

I paused, watching Krystal transform into her former 22-year-old self with the giddiness and apprehension she most likely felt those years ago. I was transfixed at seeing the physical change in her. Her face becoming child-like, even her voice took on a higher pitch.  I was truly looking at Krystal as a she was back then. Typically a writer has to create the character with dialogue and mannerisms. I was lucky enough to watch it unfold in front of me. (Photo, DJH)

Through my inquiries to build the storyline, Krystal admitted that after Dan, no other relationship ever compared. This surprised me since it was 25 years ago, and he had left her for another. She had created a larger than life belief about Dan that made it impossible for any other man to overcome.

We drove down to the campsite and unloaded the car.  We began making plans for what needed to be done that week. I needed more location shots and look up local businesses, if the film were miraculously shot on location.