Attla

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Available on 22/10/2020 BST
(22-29 Oct worldwide) Spanning his fifty-year dogsled racing career, ATTLA explores the life and persona of George Attla, from his childhood as a tuberculosis survivor in the Alaskan interior, to his rise as ten-time world champion and mythical state hero, to a village elder resolutely training his grandnephew to race his team one last time.

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British Museum Arctic Culture and Climate — Peter Loovers curator's choice

Director Bio

Catharine Axley is a documentary filmmaker and editor who seeks stories of empowerment through subjects that defy expectations. She is currently directing ATTLA, a feature documentary co-produced by ITVS and Vision Maker Media. Her films have played at festivals including the San Francisco International Film Festival, DOC NYC, Harlem International Film Festival, and the United Nations Association Film Festival. She was a Regional Finalist for the 2014 Student Academy Awards and an official nominee for the David L. Wolper Award at the 2015 International Documentary Association Awards. She holds an M.F.A. from Stanford University and a B.A. in History and Ethnicity, Race & Migration from Yale University.


Director Statement

I first learned about George Attla while reading an Alaskan newspaper, and was immediately intrigued. Here was this 80-year-old who had dominated his sport for decades, was considered a rockstar-like, living Alaskan legend, and yet, was just beginning a new chapter of life. After years in the spotlight, Attla had returned to his village of Huslia, Alaska, and had founded a program in his late son’s name to introduce a new generation to dog mushing. This was a unique form of cultural revitalization and I wanted to know more. 


What I found out soon after was a filmmaker’s dream: That very year, George would be training his young grandnephew, Joe Bifelt, to compete in the same race where George’s career had begun. Their time together over the next few months was touching - it was an honor to document such a unique intergenerational relationship. 


When George passed away, Joe, George’s partner, Kathy, George’s family, and the entire team supporting George and Joe’s dream of racing came together to ensure that Joe would make it to the championship race. And he did! 


Though the film touches on loss and hardship, ultimately ATTLA is about finding one’s identity; from a young George, returning to his village in 1951 as a TB survivor and discovering dogsled racing as a way to realize his ambitions; to a young Joe in contemporary Alaska, exploring the same sport as a means to forge a closer relationship with his elders and their shared cultural traditions. 


Throughout, I’ve been struck with how the economic and cultural forces of colonization in Alaska that have occurred in the span of George’s life are reflected in every stage of his career. Working with state archives, launching a community campaign for archival footage, and conducting extensive interviews with family members and colleagues has been central to exploring these themes in a way only film can. 

Credits

Directed by Catharine Axley

Produced by Melissa Langer
Kristine Stolakis

Cast George Attla
Joe Bifelt

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