National Geographic Special Braving Alaska

Fourth and last chapter in this season's National Geographic spex looks at several hardy families living and "Braving Alaska" in various degrees of comfort. Frontier-happy, they've fled South 48 citylife to pay heed to their individualism; there's not a sad face in the group in the artfully gathered program.

With:
Narrator: Martin Sheen.

Fourth and last chapter in this season’s National Geographic spex looks at several hardy families living and “Braving Alaska” in various degrees of comfort. Frontier-happy, they’ve fled South 48 citylife to pay heed to their individualism; there’s not a sad face in the group in the artfully gathered program.

Their struggles as they live in small cabins in “Northern Exposure”-land without electricity or other conveniences are strenuous: The most adventuresome hunt moose or trap beavers, catch salmon and eat berries, while their counterparts have larger cabins enhanced with mechanical improvements, including electricity, phones and TV.

The weather’s always a factor, with 60 degrees below not uncommon. Camerawork by Scott Ransom and Louis Prezelin, plus Barry Nye’s slick editing, catches startling season changes with advanced stop-action work that emphasizes Alaska’s shifting moods. And cold.

But it’s the people who count, and the families pioneering it in the wilderness are hearty indeed.

One family huddles together in absolute harmony as winter moves in. The husband drops a caribou for the long winter night and they settle into their small space in remarkable harmony. Another family with several children worries about the older boy’s lack of social exchanges; they haul off for Fairbanks and civilization.

The thread holding the families together in the huge expanses is the bush pilot who daringly flies in whatever supplies are needed. A teacher drops in to leave teaching equipment to challenge youngsters. The nearest town sends ice cream, cake and a doll for a 5-year-old’s birthday.

Medical help or doctors are scarce; bush people care for themselves as best they can. Independence has its trials and its victories, and strong as they are, some people, especially those alone, don’t always make it.

A 15-year-old huntress, handling a dogsled with five dogs (and a trailing wolf whose offspring stem from the dogs), covers 100 snowy miles to check her traps. Camping in a tent, she seems content with her lonely achievement.

Edging the Arctic Circle, confronting nature on its terms, bush families ask nothing as they pursue their solitary lives.

“Braving Alaska” catches their portraits, but lets one man lament that so many of the people who were there only a few years ago have returned to warmer climes and gentler surroundings. It’s understandable.

National Geographic Special Braving Alaska

(Wed. (29), 8-9 p.m., KCET)

Production: Filmed in Alaska by WETA, Washington D.C. Producer-director, Mark Stouffer; writer, Barbara Jampel.

Crew: Camera, Scott Ransom, Louis Prezelin; additional camera, David Huie, Mark Stouffer, Marshall Stouffer; editor, Barry Nye; art and animation, Yeorgos Lampathakis; sound, Paul Schremp, Mark Linden, Third Street sound; music, John McEuen, David Hoffner.

Cast: Narrator: Martin Sheen.

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