Anchorage, Alaska — The movie "Big Miracle" will hit theaters nationwide on Friday, and for many Alaskans, it's a big deal. The film was inspired by the true story of three California gray whales who were held hostage by a frozen Beaufort Sea in Barrow, Alaska. The rescue efforts made international headlines, and media outlets from around the world flocked to Barrow for the story.
KTUU was the first TV news organization to send a crew to Barrow. Assignment editor Ed Bennett remembers the initial phone call he received about the whales, from friends at the Barrow television studio.
"They often would send us video of things that were happening and they called and said, 'We've got pictures, you're not going to believe this, of some whales, stuck in the ice,'" says Bennett.
Now, nearly 25 years later, the story is capturing attention again, with the release of "big Miracle," especially since all of it was filmed in the Last Frontier. It's an exciting time for people like Carolyn K. Robinson, who helped bring the story to the big screen.
"What it's going to do for Alaska tourism, it's going to show our incredibly beautiful state. It's going to show people who live and work up here, who have been cast as actors," says Robinson.
An enticing film tax incentive program also helped draw movie producers to the state. It gives producers a thirty percent tax break, another ten percent for hiring locally, and two percent if shot during the winter, or in rural Alaska. The program is set to expire in 2013, unless Senate Bill 23, a ten-year extension, passes this legislative session, says Bob Crockett with the Alaska Film Group.
Crockett says an expiration date weakens confidence producers have in Alaska.
"If it's not in place for a length of time, you're not going to see local investors, businesses trying to invest millions of dollars into infrastructure," says Crockett.
While "Big Miracle" is the first movie to take advantage of what Alaska has to offer- a unique backdrop and talent on-screen, and off- there is talk of more to come.
"...A massive film that's looking to shoot in Alaska, and there's a couple more lined up after that so it just gets better and better," says Robinson.
The movie will play at multiple theaters in Anchorage, including Wasilla, Eagle River and Fairbanks.