Russian writer films locations around Ninilchik for DVD project highlighting Alaska


HOMER, Alaska — A photo of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ninilchik, snow-covered mountains in the distance and blue sky above, were too intriguing for Sergey Pashkevich to ignore.

A promotion copywriter with JCSC Publishing House Reader’s Digest in Moscow, Pashkevich was in Alaska in May to film the church and other key locations and interview people for “The Russian World Without Borders,” a project he described as “dedicated to various aspects of Russian heritage in places as far apart as France, Alaska and Nepal.”

The crew also included Elena Golubeva, marketing manager; Andrey Krokhalev, cameraman; Nikolay Smirnov, sound; and Alexander Pronkin, director.

That fateful first glimpse of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church on the hill above Ninilchik village was from the pages of the magazine “Vokrug Sveta,” which translates to “Around the World.”

“This is actually (Russia’s) oldest travel and adventure magazine,” Pashkevich told the Homer News. “When I first saw the cover with this beautiful orthodox church and both American and Alaskan flags waving in the wind, I was really and positively shocked. (It is) so unusual to a Russian to see an orthodox church with an Alaskan background.”

First published in 1861, Vokrug Sveta is the oldest magazine in the Russian language.

“Back then even Alaska was a part of Russia,” said Pashkevich.

In 1867, Alaska was purchased for $7.2 million by the United States, but, as Pashkevich discovered and the Reader’s Digest project points out, becoming a U.S. territory didn’t mean giving up ties to Russia.

Coordinating sites and contacts in Alaska was done with the help of John Markel of Alaska Film Locations, based in Anchorage. In addition to scouting and management, Markel offers pre-production support, rigging and safety management when working in Alaska’s challenging environments, specialized crew and equipment, and production support equipment. A long list of Markel’s references and projects include the Discovery TV series “Out of the Wild,” Disney’s feature films “The Proposal” and “The Guardian,” and commercials for Vaseline, Sacks, J Crew and more.

In 2010, when the project was beginning to take shape, Pashkevich searched the Web for Alaska scouting companies. He communicated to each of them the essence of the project and, based upon the replies he received and Markel’s level of interest, selected Alaska Film Locations.

“The whole thing would have been impossible without Mr. John Markel’s excellent location scouting and production support,” said Pashkevich, who is the executive producer of the project.

The Alaska visit began with a three-day stop in Sitka, followed by Anchorage, Ninilchik, Homer, Nikolaevsk, Kodiak and, from there, Spruce Island.

While in Nikolaevsk, the film crew captured part of the village school’s graduation ceremony. (See related story, page 1.)

“We will focus on two things: historical events that took place here until 1867 and the modern situation,” said Pashkevich. “We’ll try to create a link here and, also, we will start from the pre-contact times to give the viewers the historical background of Alaska.”

In addition to the people interviewed — including Nina Fefelov of Nikolaevsk and Ninilchik-born and raised Walter Jackinsky of Homer — and the historic and picturesque sites visited, Pashkevich said a personal highlight “was watching all those huge trucks getting the boats to the sea shore. I suddenly understood how cool the local lifestyle is and how different it is from what I see back in Moscow — all those sea-going adventures and fishing, flying the private float planes, rigging and mountain hiking. I want to come back here once with my snowboard.”

The crew traveled to France in March. Nepal, where they travel to later this month, took the place of a scheduled visit to Japan.

“Sadly, because of the tsunami there and the nuclear danger, we’ve been prohibited to go there and we were told to find a new location,” said Pashkevich. “We’ve done some research and found out that the Himalaya region has some relation to Russia.”

Completion of the project is due in November. It will be a three-DVD set, each one 52 minutes in length, with a bonus DVD including footage from all locations, including those not in the final cut.