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Film Culture and Festivals

In 1921, 16-year-old Ray Mala became the first Alaska Native film star, appearing in “Primitive Love,” a movie about the state’s unexplored territory. Not only did Mala star in the project, he was a cameraman as well. After his big break, Mala moved from Nome to Hollywood and appeared in more than 25 films during his career, becoming the most prolific actor in Alaska history.

The 1933 production “Eskimo/Mala the Magnificent” is one of the most prominent movies filmed in Alaska. The movie premiered worldwide, and Mala quickly became an international movie star. “Eskimo” won the first Academy Award for Best Film Editing and helped showcase and preserve Native Inupiaq culture on film. In 1943, Mala was a cinematographer on the Alfred Hitchcock film “Shadow of a Doubt.” His legacy includes setting a standard for casting Alaska Natives, not Asians or Polynesians as was common at the time, to play Alaska’s indigenous people. Mala passed away in 1952 at the age of 46.

In 2011, a statewide film festival in Mala’s honor was held to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Venues around the state showcased Mala’s films and other Alaska productions in his memory, and the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association is trying to secure a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Mala. Other recent accolades include his recent naming as a "Top Ten Alaskan" by “TIME” magazine.

The Anchorage International Film Festival is another prominent event for Alaska’s film industry — it’s the only multi-genre international film event in the state and the northernmost independent film festival in North America. Founded in 2001, the two week festival is dedicated to supporting new media and independent filmmaking around the world, with a special emphasis on enriching cultural entertainment opportunities for Alaskans. Movie buffs will delight in a trip timed around the festival’s special events, workshops and screenings each December in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Anchorage also features several Open Projector Nights, an open-mic style event for local filmmakers to showcase their work and meet others in the industry.

Check with local visitors bureaus to learn about film festivals in other Alaska communities .

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