Sundance selection shown in Schaible

 Rebecca Lawhorne/Sun Star Reporter
Dec. 6, 2011

At a free showing of the film Chronic Town on Dec. 2, UAF students and Fairbanks residents watched the main characters battle loneliness in a Fairbanks winter. The movie was filmed in Fairbanks in 2007 and snagged the 2008 Sundance Film Festival’s official selection. The screening was held by the Northern Studies Student Club in the Schaible Auditorium. Co-producer Maya Salganek, UAF’s Director of Film Studies, was there to discuss the film.

Chronic Town is a dark comedy which takes place deep into a Fairbanks winter. The film focuses on a lonely taxi cab driver, Truman, who was driven to insanity after a breakup and a bad acid trip. He befriends a local stripper and an elderly woman in a senior’s home. As the characters lives intertwine and things unravel, Truman must choose to find or lose himself.

Maya Salganek spoke briefly before the film began about its connection to Fairbanks and UAF. Ten film students interned as production assistants during the filming.  The students often worked 15-hour days along with the cast in crew during the month-long shoot.

Salganek stresses, “the film would not have been made without UAF’s help.”

The majority of the cast and crew flew up from the Lower 48, mainly L.A. They were greeted by 30 below weather and Tom Hines; the director had to make a trip to the hospital due to frostbitten hands. Salganek described a time when they had to rewrite a scene where the character Eleanor, played by Emily Wagner, was supposed to run out into a field of snow and take off all her clothes.

“There was -50 degree weather that day. I was like ‘this is not going to happen,'” Salganek said. At one point, the co-producer said they couldn’t even turn the filming equipment off or it would freeze.

The film is set in Fairbanks and audience members often pointed at familiar scenery and whispered mutual recognition to each other during the showing. The characters are featured frequently in local hangouts like the Boatel Bar and The Lonely Lady, where producer Lauri Labeau makes an appearance as an unfriendly stripper with a knee brace. The UA Museum of the North also makes a quick cameo.

Though some scenery was easy to recognize, after the movie, Mary Ehrlander, the director of the Northern Studies program, asked Salganek why she, a lifelong Fairbanks resident, couldn’t identify many of the aerial views used in the film. Salganek explained that the movie is meant to take place in a void landscape. The filmmakers wanted to have a setting that was vague to give off a feeling of loneliness.

Though the main character Truman, played by JR Bourne, encompasses a sense of lighthearted charisma, the film seems to lead viewers down a road of wintery isolation, which only grows deeper as the minutes pass. Salganek describes the characters’ common trait as “wanting to have feelings but not engaging in the world.”

Salganek also co-produced the film Alaskaland. She read the script straight through in about two and a half hours before agreeing to be a part of the movie. She describes Fairbanks as another character in the film, and to anyone who has ever called this place home, can agree that. Local Fairbanks musicians are featured throughout the film, including bands like Arctic Noise Symphony.

Michael Kamsky, the film’s writer, wrote the script 15 years after moving away from Fairbanks. Salganek said the scenes in the script were so specific, “it couldn’t be filmed anywhere but here.”

UAF student Eran Eads, 19, planned on recommending the film to everyone, he said after the movie.“It made it seem so much more real to see it through the eyes of someone that lives here,” he said. Eads almost expects to see Truman driving around town in that red, white and blue Eagle Cab van.

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