MEDIA REVIEW: RUNNING WITH THE SPIRITS: THE 2008 ALL ALASKA SWEEPSTAKES DVD

I’ll take 40 below ‘neath these northern lights, For the winner-take-all and the braggin’ rights. Sepp and Scotty and The Iron Man, I’m runnin’ with spirits ‘cross this frozen land! ©2009 Jim ParkinsonThe opening bars of one of the original songs written for this movie sets the stage for what’s to come: A championship sled dog race with bragging rights like no other! The oldest chronicled sled dog race in history, the richest purse ever offered in a sled dog race, the Centennial running of the historic All Alaska Sweepstakes! The stuff dreams are made of…The All Alaska Sweepstakes was begun in 1908 by the Nome Kennel Club, and the route from Nome, on the south side of the Seward Peninsula, to the small community of Candle on the north side and return, is 408 miles, following the telegraph lines which linked camps and mining settlements on the Peninsula. As in horse racing elsewhere, the primary interest driving the races was gambling on the fastest teams, and stellar mushers such as A.A. “Scotty” Allan and Leonhard Seppala achieved rock star status in their day. Purses were impressive for the times, the first winner in 1908 took home $10,000 in prize money, and newspaper headlines all over the country told of a race unlike any other. The official race pamphlet claimed it “easily towers above all other contests of physical endurance, for both man and beast.”The All Alaska Sweepstakes was an eagerly anticipated annual event until the First World War. After the war gold mining dropped off and sled dog racing’s center moved to Fairbanks in Alaska, and to the eastern U.S. as Leonhard Seppala and others successfully promoted the still-new sport. The great race ran only a handful of times until 1983, when the Nome Kennel Club was able to bring back the All Alaska Sweepstakes for the 75th Anniversary Race. Rick Swenson won the title that year, taking home the $25,000 winner-take-all purse ahead of a field of twenty-three entries. For the 100th Anniversary of the race the Nome Kennel Club offered the grandest purse ever for a sled dog race: $100,000 winner-take-all! Sixteen teams entered, including some of the top names in Alaska’s mushing community; favored to win were then-two-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey and four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King. They were up against stiff competition as mushers from all across Alaska entered, as much for the honor of having their name engraved on the permanent trophy beside Allan’s and Seppala’s as for the considerable winnings. The Nome Kennel Club wanted the Centennial Race well documented, and they turned to Donna Quante, a three-time Emmy Award winning film-maker, to produce a DVD on the proceedings. Donna enlisted Two Rivers still photographer Jan DeNapoli, owner of Muzzy Graphics, who covered the Council checkpoint; and Mark Hegener, co-owner of Northern Light Media, whose ability to fearlessly stand in front of a hard-charging dogteam brought exciting start footage to the film. For several weeks before the Centennial All Alaska Sweepstakes race the tension and excitement had been building, especially after 2007 Yukon Quest and Iditarod Champion Lance Mackey announced that his goal for 2008 was to win the Sweepstakes. In a video clip produced by Northern Light Media, Mackey stated, “My goal is top three in the Quest, top ten in the Iditarod, and I’m gonna win the Sweepstakes. I’d really like to win the Sweepstakes. It’s 400 miles and pays better than the other two combined! But realistically? It’s a dog race and anything can happen!” Lance’s words proved to be almost prophetic. He won the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest for the fourth time that year, and two weeks later he won the 1,000 mile Iditarod for the second time. The stage was set for the Triple Crown of Mushing, and race fans everywhere were galvanized by the historic Centennial Running of the famous All Alaska Sweepstakes! In Running With Spirits, Donna Quante captures the excitement, the suspense, and the enduring significance of the historic 2008 Centennial All Alaska Sweepstakes. Jan DeNapoli’s captivating still photography adds a marvelous dimension to the film, highlighting hopeful mushers, frosty-faced dogs, and the stunning beauty of the Seward Peninsula. The documentary begins with a haunting rendition of “There’s No Place Like Nome,” traditional music from the time period of the races, courtesy of the Carrie McLain Museum and beautifully sung by the all-girl band Raining Hearts. The rest of the video features toe-tapping original music by Kyf Brewer and Jim Parkinson of the pan-celtic rock band Barleyjuice, with backup from Raining Hearts. From the title song “Running With Spirits” to the inspiring “Living the Dream” to the rousing “Dogs, Dogs, Dogs!” the music sets the pace and delivers the atmosphere of a great adventure.The All Alaska Sweepstakes has it all: A colorful history, exciting ceremonies, a heartbreaking near-tragedy on the trail, an unexpected but delightful finish, a Musher’s Banquet which recreated 1908 right down to the menu—and the determined and dauntless last musher on the trail, who was welcomed at the finish line by the lead judge—who’d just landed in Anchorage! Running With Spirits captures it all in over two hours of unforgettable film. The DVD is available from Donna Quante’s Husky Productions (huskyproductions.net) for $30.00 plus $5.00 shipping and handling. •

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