ATTLA

ATTLA

ATTLA tells the gripping but virtually unknown story of George Attla, an Alaska Native dogsled racer who, with one good leg and one outlandish dream, dominated the sport for five decades, becoming a rockstar figure for both Natives and whites.

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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 particularly struck with how the economic and cultural forces of colonization that have occurred in the span of George’s life are reflected in his career. I felt like it was essential to explore these themes through George’s perspective to fully appreciate the significance of Joe’s year-long journey. Working with state archives, launching a community campaign for archival footage, and conducting extensive interviews with family members and colleagues has been an exciting aspect of the process, enabling us to experience the past in a way that only film can.

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