A camera operator works on collecting footage for a series of four documentaries KTOO's 360 North public television is producing on the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Above: Skip Gray, the chief videographer at KTOO's 360 North public television channel, gathers footage for the station's Alaska Marine Highway System project of four documentaries and a series of oral histories for the state archives.
Right: Kelli Burkinshaw, an editor and director at KTOO's 360 North public television channel, works on footage collected of the Alaska Marine Highway System for a series of four documentaries the station is producing.
Story last updated at 4/24/2013 - 2:17 pm
She knows who you are - you went into labor on the deck, tossed into the drunk tank, smuggled a dog onto the solarium, travel to Kake every other week, eat more ketchup than fries. She knows about you, Lavina Sargent does. She knows because she worked as a purser for the Alaska Marine Highway System for close to three decades.
"Working as a purser you go into all the communities, big and little," Sargent said. "Not only do you get to know the passengers, you get to know the communities. It's like the city bus in a way: you get to know everyone around the route."
The AMHS has been the reliable mode of transportation between communities from Bellingham to the Aleutian Islands since 1963. This year marks its 50th anniversary. The M/V Malaspina was the first boat that came into service after the AMHS was started. To celebrate the golden benchmark, the vessel will be traveling from Ketchikan to Skagway between May 1 and 5.
The boat will stop at each port along the route, where special festivities to commemorate the anniversary will be held.
"We've worked very closely with all the communities in Southeast Alaska that have come to the table to highlight their culture and heritage for each one of the community events," said Danielle Adkins, the marketing manager for the AMHS.
The Malaspina will also take two special trips, one around Revillagigedo Island with a cruise through Misty Fjords National Monument and one into Tracy Arm.
As part of a year-long effort, KTOO's statewide public television channel 360 North has been working on a series of four hour-long documentaries on the AMHS. The first, an overview introducing the marine highway and its history, was first broadcasted on Easter Sunday, March 31.
"If there's one thing that ties the people of Southeast Alaska together, if you think about something they all have in common, it's pretty much the ferry system," said Tim Olson, 360 North's director of television programming.
Olson also said the film series is particularly unique.
"It's an Alaskan story being told by Alaskans, which you don't see that much these days," he said.
One of the other documentaries will focus on what life is like on board of the AMHS vessels and another will focus on how vital the vessels are for travel and supply. The footage for these two films has mostly been collected.
"The most exciting of the films will be the one they're shooting in a matter of weeks," Olson said.
That film will consist of footage shot during the Malaspina's golden anniversary trip, and Sargent will host it.
Adkins said that the Malaspina trip and port celebrations have been in the planning stages for years.
"We really wanted to use it to raise awareness," she said. "Not only (among) residents of the state - to give them a new reason to get excited to come out and ride their ferry system - but also to lend some validity to visitors to the state."
Adkins said many visitors view Alaska as a young state, and thus it's important to highlight historic milestones. The creation of the documentaries, she said, will help achieve this.
Kelli Burkinshaw is an editor and director with 360 North, and is the field director for the Malaspina voyage.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to tell the stories of each of these communities with respect to how the Alaska Marine Highway has affected them," Burkinshaw said. "It definitely enhances the communities and the relationships and connections between them."
Burkinshaw said that at most of the ports the Malaspina will be docking at downtown locations, where the cruise ships generally access, so that passengers can easily mingle and engage with local celebrations in the city centers. She will be assisted by a team of four additional people, two on sound and two with cameras.
She's trying to capture the force of time, how it changes communities and how the ferry system has evolved. How to capture and present this process is the creative, fun yet head-scratching part of her job. Burkinshaw started with writing a story, one she feels confident she can obtain, before the crew flies to Ketchikan.
"It might not be the best story," she said. "We may be pleasantly surprised with all kinds of gems we find along the way. And then you pick up those gems and rewrite it."
Burkinshaw described her plan of attack.
"I plan to capture (the story) with interviews and a lot of video from the trip and voyage, interviews with people on board who were on the original voyage," Burkinshaw said. "Crew members too; we're hoping there will be people on board who have been on the first voyage that may be able to tell what it was like and how it's changed."
As a host, Sargent may be conducting some of the interviews.
"I hope a lot of people tell me things," she said. "This documentary is about the marine highway and how it's involved with the communities, how the communities perceive it, how it affects them."
Burkinshaw said that one of the "gems" she's already encountered is how willing the ferry system has been to have her team along for the ride and how the AMHS has embraced the production efforts of the other three documentaries. It appears it's a mutually beneficial relationship and project.
"One of the things that has been difficult for us has been recreating an accurate historical account of the organization," Adkins said.
Part of the 360 North project has been to interview AMHS staff and community members who were present during the first years of the marine highway's operation.
"We've been traveling around Alaska the last year, recording interviews, meeting people who worked on the ships, rode on them or had the communities affected by the system," Olson said.
Besides the documentaries, a significant component of 360 North's effort is producing accessible historical information.
"We went into this thinking it would be a good oral history project," Olson said. "We're gathering interviews for an oral history collection. We want them to be archived and held for scholarly research, education and public interest, so future Alaskans can learn more about the history of the state when it was young."
The archived oral histories will be housed at the Alaska Film Archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as well as the Alaska Historical Collections of the State Library.
"We wanted something that would have lasting interest to people," Olson said. "We hope it will be looked at and listened to for years to come."
Sargent is retired now, and quite excited for the upcoming journey.
"I just love it," she said. "I love showing off my (home), my state. And I miss it."
The Tracy Arm and Revillagigedo Island excursions are sold out, though Adkins said there are still tickets left for the rest of the legs, from Ketchikan to Wrangell then Petersburg, Juneau, Haines and Skagway. To purchase tickets or for more information on the events happening in each port, visit www.ferryalaska.com/50years/ and click on the "50 Years" tab.
If you missed the first documentary, it will be rebroadcasted on April 24 at 9 p.m. and on April 28 at 8 p.m. on the 360 North public television channel.
For more information on the full 360 North AMHS project, visit www.360north.org/amhgoldenanniversary.
Amanda Compton is the staff writer for Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.