By Joseph Miller
Special to the Tribune
At the Ninilchick State Fairgrounds this weekend, hundreds of music enthusiasts and salmon sympathizers gathered for the third annual Salmonstock, a three-day music festival that promotes awareness about the importance of salmon in Alaska culture and supports sustainable and responsible methods of coexistence with Alaska’s salmon runs.
Among the 56 musical performances of the weekend, journalist and new filmmaker Joshua Tucker held two screenings of his new film, “We Can’t Eat Gold“. The film centers of the lives of the Bristol Bay Natives and their symbiotic relationship with the annual salmon runs that have fed and sustained their communities for 350 generations.
With the upcoming decision regarding the future of the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Tucker felt that the story from the perspective of the natives of Bristol Bay needed to be heard, and that the people of Salmonstock would want to hear it.
“Salmonstock is a tremendous opportunity with an important audience to get started with.” Tucker says. “It’s time to give the story of Pebble Mine legs and get it down to the Lower 48. Now we are reaching out to find creative ways to share our documentary in communities around the world so that Alaska Natives not only get a chance to speak up but also to be heard before others decide what’s to become of their homeland.”
Tucker began making the film as a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage on his laptop with executive producer Giovanna Marcantonio.
Over the next two and a half years, the two traveled around the villages of Bristol Bay in what Tucker calls “a labor of love”, interviewing those whose jobs and means to provide for their families could be threatened by the proposed Pebble Mine. The film was used to gather material for the EPA conference concerning Pebble Mine in 2012. With a decision expected later this year, Tucker says that “it’s no mistake that this film showed up when it did.”
It is Tucker’s and Marcantonio’s hope that the film’s reception at Salmonstock will serve as a springboard to getting the story of Pebble Mine out into the world.
The film first premiered at the Finger Lakes Film Festival in Ithaca, NY on April 6th and has already been screened more than 30 times in the communities within Bristol Bay. After Salmonstock, the film is scheduled to be shown at the Columbia Gorge Film Festival in Washington.
This fall, Tucker plans to bring the film to the UN Film Festival in California and with enough support, start screenings of “We Can’t Eat Gold” in film festivals in London to bring international attention to the story of Bristol Bay and the proposed Pebble Mine. Tucker also hopes to make the documentary more accessible to viewers in the Lower 48 who have never heard of Bristol Bay.
“It’s more complicated than I had originally anticipated,” Tucker says, “but we’re doing everything we can to get on Netflix. These communities need to be heard and Netflix and other sites like it will definitely help in spreading the message.”
The film was enthusiastically received at Salmonstock and the future looks promising for “We Can’t Eat Gold“. The showings brought in a significant amount of donations from the viewers at Salmonstock, and Tucker plans to use most of the donations to assist with production and eventually be used to bring the film and Nunamta Aulukestai Spokesman Bobby Andrew from Bristol Bay to London. It is Tucker’s primary goal to get the story of Bristol Bay and the Pebble Mine to leave Alaska.
“It’s important to go to where the silence is,” he said. “There has been a lot of people saying that they know what is best for the people in these communities. It’s time that someone let them speak for themselves.”
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