Alaska. When I think of this place, I no longer only think of dog sledding, the snowy expanse, and drilling oil. I no longer see the population of 735,132 (provided by the United States Census) as a simple number.
When I think of Alaska, I think of Bethel. I think of the rolling tundra, the hazy blue sky, and the providing rivers. I think of the people, and I think of their stories.
And boy, did they have stories. After 13 interviews and even more interactions with the people of Bethel, I heard countless tales. It would take an entire two-week long documentary to share all of these stories and opinions with the rest of the world. And so, as a writing team, we had to reduce over 13 stories, to a single, 25 minute-long film.
The script we have written is good. It is true to Bethel and it shares the people’s commitment to a subsistence way of life and their fear that it, along with their culture, is coming under threat. It includes the difficult economic realities as well as the visible proof of climate change evident in the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta.
Yet, I cannot help but shake the feeling of shame at the fact that some of the stories will be left untold. The people of Omaha will not learn of the tragic cultural trauma the Yup’ik people underwent, nor will they grasp the full reality of the fishing restriction problem.
It is simply impossible to learn and write the story of all 735,132 people of Alaska. In the midst of all of these stories, we must simply choose which to share and which to save. We pick, and we choose, but at least I can find comfort in knowing that the 13 stories that were shared in Bethel will live on in my heart as well as that of the entire Alaska team.
Our job as journalists will never be over. There are always new stories to tell and new cultures to explore. Though our Alaskan film making adventure is coming to a close, I know that I will continue searching for new people to talk to and new stories to tell.