Story of Alaska Native dogsled racer who, with one good leg and a determined mindset, rose to international fame to become a sports legend.

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Independent Lens
Premiere Date
December 16, 2019
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2019 American Indian Film Festival-Best Documentary Feature
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    Catharine Axley

    Catharine Axley is a documentary filmmaker who seeks stories of empowerment through subjects that defy expectations. She co-directs Paper Bridge Films with fellow Attla producer Kristine Stolakis. Her films have played at festivals including San Francisco International Film Festival, DOC NYC, Harlem International Film Festival, and the United Show more Nations Association Film Festival. She was a Regional Finalist for the Student Academy Awards and an official nominee for the David L. Wolper Award at the 2015 International Documentary Association Awards. Axley is the recipient of grants from Vision Maker Media, the Caucus Foundation, and the Alaska Humanities Forum. Before directing her own films, Axley was the Line Producer on Morgenthau, a 2015 New York Emmy winner. Axley is a FilmHouse resident through the San Francisco Film Society. She holds an M.F.A. from Stanford University and a B.A. in History & Ethnicity, Race, and Migration from Yale University. Show less

    Heatshot kristine stolakis

    Kristine Stolakis

    Kristine Stolakis is a BAFTA-nominated documentary filmmaker and producer. She co-directs Paper Bridge Films with Attla director Catharine Axley. Her films have played at festivals internationally, including Hot Docs, DOC NYC, and Seattle International and have been featured in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Buzzfeed, and Mother Jones. Her film Where We Stand Show more is about a courageous and controversial group of Mormon feminists. She is the recipient of the Southern Environmental Law Center's Media Fellowship and teaches at Diablo Valley College. She holds an M.F.A. in documentary film and video from Stanford University and a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from New York University. She proudly hails from central New York and North Carolina. Show less

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    Melissa Langer

    Melissa Langer is a documentary filmmaker and cinematographer based in Oakland. She holds an M.F.A. in Documentary Film & Video from Stanford University and a B.A. in History from Carleton College. Her short films include Treasure Island, Hauled Out, and Terms of Intimacy. Her film, My Aleppo, tells the story of a young Syrian family in South Africa as Show more they struggle to retain ties to the ancient city of Aleppo. She is the recipient of a UFVA Carole Fielding Grant and her films have premiered at Telluride Film Festival, SXSW, IDFA, and MoMA's Doc Fortnight. Show less

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    The Film

    He’s one of our greatest sports heroes. You’ve just never heard of him.

    ATTLA tells the gripping but virtually unknown story of George Attla, an Alaska Native dogsled racer who, with one good leg and a determined mindset, rose to international fame to become a legendary sports hero amongst both Western and native communities across the country. Part dog whisperer, part ingenious businessman, part conniving competitor, part teenage heartthrob, Attla defies characterization, living through a unique period of history when Western education, economies, and culture penetrated into the Alaskan bush and village lifestyle, and forever changed the state with the discovery of oil in the late 1960’s.

    ATTLA interweaves Attla’s story into the final chapter of his life, as he emerges from retirement to train his twenty-year-old grandnephew, Joe Bifelt, to restore a racing village tradition by competing in the world’s largest dogsled sprint race that has experienced a sharp decline of Native racers. The recent rise in substance abuse, mental health issues, and suicide in both Attla’s village and villages across the state is Attla’s primary motivation in seeking a way to bring peace and resilience to his community in the only way he knows how — dogs. His young grandnephew, Bifelt, provides a window through which we learn the challenges of balancing a Native identity and lifestyle within a Western system of education and work, while living in the remote, harsh interior. As the months pass and the dogs get stronger, the film takes a dramatic turn when Attla is unexpectedly diagnosed with bone cancer and must leave Bifelt to seek treatment in Anchorage.