A documentary on the life of legendary Athabascan sprint musher George Attla will premiere on PBS’s Independent Lens at 10 p.m. on Dec. 16 on public television station KAKM in Anchorage.
“Attla,” directed by Catharine Axley, documents Attla training his grandnephew, Joe Bifelt, to race his team.
The film focuses on Attla’s lifelong commitment to keeping the traditions of the Athabascan village of Huslia alive in the ever evolving culture, interweaving the story of his mushing career with the final chapter of his life, when he emerged from retirement to mentor his 20-year-old grandnephew, Joe Bifelt, for a prestigious race and revive the proud tradition of Huslia mushers.
Attla was also the author of the book “Everything I Know about Training and Racing Sled Dogs,” first published in 1972 by Publishing Service, and a second edition, published in 1974, by Arner Publications. Although the book is long out of print, copies are available online from used editions at $25 and up to new copies from $143.48 to $3,624.95.
Attla passed away at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage on Feb. 15, 2015.
In his career as a dog musher, Attla won a record 10 Fur Rendezvous World Championships and eight North American Open Championships, but the legend of the man best known as the Huslia Hustler began long before.
As a small child Attla suffered from tuberculosis, which left him with a lame leg, but that wasn’t enough to stop him from pursuing dog mushing with a fused knee and permanently stiff leg, and many memorable victories as a musher.
Attla was born at a fish camp just below Koyukuk on the Yukon River on Aug. 8, 1933, and later spent most of his life as a resident of Huslia. In 1979, “Spirit of the Wind,” which told the story of Attla as a dog musher, won the Best Picture Award at the Sundance Film Festival. The film starred Chief Dan George and Slim Pickens.
On April 25, 1998, then Gov. Steve Cowper declared April 29 as George Attla Day.