Director: Tom Burke
Release: 4 October
Newtok is a village in Western Alaska. It’s actually 492 miles away from the capital Anchorage so it’s fair to say it is somewhat remote and isolated. Newtok has a population of around 375 consisting, mostly, of the indigenous Yup’ik natives who hunt seal and fish as a source of subsistence. Their quotidian existence is basic and harsh. There is no running water, so they operate a ‘honey bucket’ system. Oh, and their village is about to disappear owing to coastal erosion which means they are being forced to re-locate to Mertarvik, nine miles away on higher ground.
How director Tom Burke happened upon the story of their precarious plight isn’t explained. But like many great ideas, this stumble-upon leads him to unearthing a cautionary tale of a community set against the backdrop of a global crisis. We literally watch them batten down the hatches as the sea pummels their coastline, edging ever closer to their homes. And there’s the double threat of the melting permafrost, on which they are positioned, in this tundra region. It is bleak. It is global warming. It will be become an alarmingly more frequent story soon.
Losing Alaska is also an affectionate portrait of a community with jaw-dropping aerial scenes of the patterned lands and seas which they inhabit. It is also enhanced by an equally elegiac score by Gerry Horan.
There is not just erosion of a physical landscape but division of a human one. We witness a split within the local council. This story of displacement and abandonment is like the local vernacular, calmly told and without the histrionics which could have been so easily deployed. However, beneath its surface lies a much bigger story connected to our future.
Words: Michael McDermott