Homer filmmaker's work chosen for Anchorage film fest

Nov 8, 2017

Credit Courtesy of Jean Aspen and Tom Irons

A locally produced documentary about life in the Brooks Mountain Range will be screened at the Anchorage International Film Festival next month. Homer-based artist, author and film producer Jean Aspen strung together photos and film from several lengthy stints in Alaska’s northern mountains to make “Arctic Daughter: A Lifetime of Wilderness.”

Aspen directed the 90-minute feature with her husband Tom Irons. It tells the story of her life in Alaska’s northern most mountain range and her spiritual connection to it.

The film begins during Aspen’s early childhood when she spent a few years in the Brooks Mountains with her parents, Bud and Connie Helmericks, who were also filmmakers and authors.  

“So, I start at that point in “Arctic Daughter.” My own initiation that I began is talking about when I was in my early 20s, when a friend and I spent four years living basically on what we could catch walking in the Brooks Range,” Aspen said.

She returned to Alaska’s northern wilderness several times after that trip in the early 1970s, often filming or taking photos. She adds that she had no inkling she would later turn them into a documentary.

“Then in later years, my husband Tom and I went back into the wilderness and built another cabin with our young son Lucas and a woman friend,” Aspen explained. “Gosh, we built that 25, 27 years ago and spent a great deal of time there since, including overwintering a couple of times.” 

Tom Irons and Jean Aspen.
Credit Courtesy of Tom Irons and Jean Aspen

Aspen released her first film, “Arctic Son: Fulfilling the Dream”, in 2010. The documentary details their time building the cabin. That film was also screened at the Anchorage festival and aired on several PBS stations across the country.

“Arctic Daughter” is a logical extension of the first film. It combines footage from Aspen’s parents and their time in the arctic with her various experiences in the Brooks Range as an adult. The film tells the story of her life, but it also makes the connection from the wilderness to who she is today.

“So, I’m not just a wilderness person, but that piece of my life has been pivotal to who I am and has always called me back,” Aspen noted.

She is currently working on the third film in the series, which will document her dismantling the cabin she and her husband built in the early 1990s. She plans to return to the site next spring for a five-month stay to take the cabin down and reforest the area.

“The third one in the trilogy is “Rewilding Kernwood.” After being gifted with a great amount of beauty and freedom and I guess spiritual connection to this planet, it is appropriate for me to give it back,” Aspen explained. “Part of giving it back is taking down everything we built and return it to the wilderness, and we’re making a film about [an] ethical relationship with wilderness.”

There is no official date set for the third film’s release, but “Arctic Daughter” will be screened at the Alaska Experience Theater in Anchorage on Dec. 10, along with over 100 films in the festival.