Tom Burke’s feature documentary Losing Alaska will receive its International Premiere at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA); screening as part of the Frontlight strand of the festival.
Sitting atop a melting permafrost, battered by coastal erosion and aggressive summer melt waters, Newtok, Alaska is set to be the first American town lost to climate change.
Newtok is not supposed to survive. Forces far stronger than the people who call it home are lining up against the town; winter storms grow more fierce each year and steal more of the coastline; summer meltwaters surge down the Ninglick river and erode the edges of the town; global warming, felt more keenly this far north, is melting the permafrost on which the town is built. This is the local story with global significance. Three hundred and seventy five American citizens call Newtok their home, for now. The plan is to abandon the town, and start again 9 miles up the river on higher, more solid ground. The community is divided between those determined to stay, and those equally determined to move. They are fighting the weather, the indifference of state agencies and now, finally, each other.
Losing Alaska tells the story of a small community dealing with a slow moving disaster. They have known for decades that their future was in peril; they have seen the land dropping away on all sides and the river growing stronger year after year. They will lose their first building sometime in 2019. The school, the highest building in the town, could be taking in water by 2020. They are losing up to 50ft of land per year, every year.
The people of Newtok find themselves torn between their love of the place they call home, and the drive to take on that most American of feats – to pioneer a new town.
Burke was on a one-man mission to capture the story, shooting and editing the film. Back in the warmer climes of Ireland the post-production team included original music by Gerry Horan, sound design from Steve Fanagan (Room, The Little Stranger), sound editing by Brendan Rehill (Good Favour, The Favourite), and colour by Dave Hughes (Greta is the new feature directed by Academy Award®-winning Irish director Neil Jordan, and starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Isabelle Huppert, and Maika Monroe., The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid).
Losing Alaska is produced by Jessie Fisk and Alan Maher for Marcie Films, with support from Celine Haddad at Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland (FÉ/SI) is the national development agency for Irish filmmaking and the Irish film, television and animation industry. / Fís Éireann.
IDFA is the world’s leading documentary festival and prides itself on presenting work that stimulates and offers new perspectives, as well as championing documentaries that combine stylistic innovation with urgent content. This year’s edition will run from 14 – 25 November.
This year’s edition of IDFA, which marks the festival’s 31st year, will also screen new Irish short film Memory Room, which is directed by Adrian Duncan and Feargal Ward, and stars Barry Ward. The short film is produced by Feargal Ward, who directed the award-winning The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid, which received its World Premiere at IDFA last year and is currently screening in Irish cinemas to critical acclaim.