Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dick Proenneke and his 30-Year Alaskan Wilderness Adventure

In 1967, Dick Proenneke retired at age 50. He traveled to the Twin Lakes region at the base of the Aleutian Peninsula and built himself a log cabin on the lake shore. With only skill and resourcefulness as his companions, it was there, amid all the beauty – and harshness – of Alaska, that he spent the next 30 years of his life, Alone in the Wilderness.

WSBE Rhode Island PBS will air this fascinating glimpse into solitude and survival on August 31 at 7:30 PM, followed by the second in the series of three films about Proenneke's adventures, Alaska: Silence & Solitude at 9 PM.

Alone in the Wilderness, produced by Bob Swerer, uses color footage Proenneke recorded himself to share with his family back home in Iowa. Filmed mostly with a stationary 16mm camera, the film consists of shots of Proenneke performing tasks around his cabin, canoeing, walking, plus views of wildlife, along with narration. For shots of himself, Proenneke would fix the camera in place, and then perform his tasks. Since he was alone, he would have to return for the camera after walking or canoeing away.

In 1986 producers Bob Swerer, Jr. and his father first met Dick Proenneke while the Swerers were in the Twin Lakes region to explore the area and film wildlife. Their mutual affection for nature and the wilderness forged a long friendship. In 1997, the Swerers returned to Alaska to visit with Proenneke.

With more than 3,000 feet of film shot by Proenneke, and meticulous, poetic journals written, his adventures in Alaska resulted in three films, edited and produced by Swerer Productions. Alone in the Wilderness, released in 2003, covers Proenneke's first year in the wilderness, showing his day-to-day activities, and the passing of the seasons as he sought to scratch out a living.

Alaska: Silence & Solitude, filmed 20 years later, is the follow-up film to Alone in the Wilderness. Bob Swerer and Bob Swerer, Sr. produced the film in 1998, documenting their visit with Dick Proenneke at his famous cabin on Twin Lakes where the wildlife is still abundant and the scenery is spectacular.

Find WSBE Rhode Island PBS over the air on digital 36.1; Cox/Verizon/Full Channel 08; DirecTV 36; Dish Network 7776; ComCast subscribers, please check local listings for the channel number in your area.