Later in the week (September 25) marks the film release of WILDLIKE – the latest film to be set amid a stunning Alaskan backdrop to promote the power of adventure and wilderness for personal healing. We are giving away 3 iTunes codes to US readers for a free download of the film to mark it’s release – learn more about the film and enter to win below! WILDLIKE Film Review
In this thrilling coming-of-age adventure, a troubled teen must face the dangers of the Alaskan wild, as well as her own past, in order to find her way home. Sent to stay with her uncle in Alaska while her mother is in treatment, 14-year-old Mackenzie is forced to flee as her uncle’s attention turns threatening. Unable to reach her mother and afraid that the authorities will return her to her uncle, she embarks on a journey across miles of wilderness to find a way back home to Seattle. Watch WILDLIKE Film Trailer
As she plunges deeper into the Alaskan interior, a chance connection with backpacker Bartlett proves to be her only lifeline. Mackenzie shadows him across the rugged frontier, thwarting his efforts to cut her loose until he has no choice but to help her survive. Against the backdrop of a spectacular landscape, they discover the redemptive power of friendship. WILDLIKE Trailer
From the film maker Frank Hall Green: As the writer of WILDLIKE, I have been very close to all facets of this story for some time. I delved into the landscape of Alaska and studied the trauma that girls and women endure from childhood sexual abuse. I travelled to Alaska and backpacked across Denali National Park. I traversed the state by car, wandered into its woods getting lost, seeking adventure. I have also ventured close to the main character Mackenzie’s pain.
I have listened to victims and read countless stories of female sexual abuse of all kinds, both young girls and women. I know the statistics are of epidemic proportions. With difficulty, I have listened to and read the accounts of numerous offenders, and their perhaps incurable behavior. I have witnessed victims’ healing, and the recalibration of a woman’s relations (platonic and romantic) to men. Watch WILDLIKE Film Trailer
Marrying these themes and emotions with the landscape of Alaska bore the adventure and drama of WILDLIKE. Growing up, I cherished adventure, whether by fortunate or unfortunate circumstance. Even today, my dreams are consistently adventures. Looking back, I first subconsciously wrote a story of adventure, exploring themes of freedom, escape and innocence. Then, consciously, I asked myself why do I and others seek out adventure? What do people run away from? Or run away to?
I had been moved by a New York Times editorial on female sexual abuse, touching on all the subtle aspects of misogyny in our society. The inescapable pain drove innocent girls and injured women to run away from their perpetrators, themselves and their problems. When I dug deeper into sexual abuse and the offenders, I found other runners, the guilty party, equally pained and often running and trying to escape as well. At this point I knew I wanted to explore the idea of running from the fear of one’s own pain, both as a victim and a shamed person, guilty and afraid of their own potential. Thus Mackenzie’s adventure has meaning.
The character Bartlett is also on a journey of pain, running from acceptance and the grief of a painful loss. As a final step in the story, adventure and journeys of the soul eventually lead to encounters with other people. When one encounters the right person or group of people, that is the point at which recovery can begin.
As a storyteller I wanted to emphasize the why of adventure, and the inevitable questions we must answer regardless of how far we travel and what journeys we embark on. In fact, it can be these journeys themselves that reconnect us to others and provide answers. Alaska is a uniquely remarkable place I have come to know since 2003. Similar to its boundless mountains, glaciers and animals, the state and people are friendly yet tough and straightforward. The culture and geography is as nondiscriminatory and unpretentious as nature itself.
It immediately captured my cinematic sensibility on a backpacking trip to Denali with my wife. On a train ride back across the state, stories unfolded as we passed people, towns, remote abodes and a vast expanse of wilderness between them. It was on an extended research trip to Alaska when I read of the state’s specific molestation rate and accountability problems. I immediately set out to write this true-to-life story, and set it in Alaska.
It became clear that there were two frontiers in this film – that of Alaska, and that of innocence. A state with 700,000 people scattered over an area twice the size of Texas, Alaska is a vast and impressive land, not just to gape at the beauty of, but to disappear into – for victim and offender alike. It is the least religious state in the nation. You are undisturbed. The city of Juneau is trapped by mountains and sea, approachable (or escapable) only by plane or boat. Alaska is 5 also the only state we still refer to as a frontier – a place yet unaltered, but ironically destined to be despoiled.
The film’s subject matter was difficult to research, digest and “sit-with.” Developing the characters and attempting to understand their own experiences (victim, aide and offender) was challenging and usually uncomfortable. Despite the difficulty of handling the subject, I feel that young female sexual abuse is under-represented and misrepresented in film. Unlike what may be seen in previous movies, perpetrators are seldom overtly violent, and the incidents are often non-dramatic.
It is a quiet, secretive event that happens before anyone knows, or can do, anything about it. Often the victim is unsure of whether a crime has even occurred, and generally it is unreported. It exists in many disguised forms, undisturbed in hidden corners of everyday life. Furthermore, the interior effects on the victims are complex and become extremely deep-rooted, usually moments after the experience
On film, I insisted it be presented authentically and with deliberate diligence, in order to report the truth. It could not be anything less than a difficult viewing experience. Likewise, the healing journey that Mackenzie embarks on had to be told honestly.
Reactions vary greatly, but the hard truth is that there is no full recovery from sexual abuse. Mackenzie’s trip with Bartlett is only the beginning of a life-long process. In research, it was clear that first damage is done with a secret kept or even a memory dislodged. Then, often with young girls, sexual development is askew, perhaps turning to promiscuity, misbehavior and manipulation.
Still, WILDLIKE is not a story of abuse, but rather a story of recovery. Equally important to reporting the truth around female sexual abuse is what a victim does next. Silence and secrecy are far too common and instinctual. Escape, mentally and physical, is standard, and coming back, returning to one’s place of innocence, is not possible. Mackenzie is but one example.
WILDLIKE is about the relationship between the physical journeys we take and the journeys of discovery we all must make within ourselves. It is about people who transcend the dark hands they have been dealt and find a way to trust again.
I believe that adventure and the wilderness has the power to reawaken our humanity and, if hand in hand with the right people, can help heal oneself.
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All photos courtesy of Alaska Film LLC.