Produced in 1923 by Austin Cap Lathrop’s Alaska Moving Pictures Corporation, the silent film “The Cheechakos” was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2003. Despite this recognition, very few Alaskans have even heard of the film and fewer yet are aware of the important role it played in this period of early Anchorage history.

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From UAF News and Events:

“The Chechahcos” named to National Film Registry

Submitted by Carla Browning

“The Chechahcos,” released in 1924 by Alaska industrialist and entrepreneur Cap Lathrop, joined the ranks of such films as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “National Velvet” as the Librarian of Congress James Billington named all three and 22 others to the national film registry.

“The Chechahcos” was the first feature filmed entirely in Alaska and the only film by Lathrop’s Alaska Moving Pictures Co. The black and white silent film is 86 minutes long and is accompanied by a piano score typical of silent films of the era. According to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rasmuson Library Alaska Film Archives, “the film boasted Alaska cast members and spectacular location shooting that vied with the best Hollywood productions.”

Archivists restored the film in 2000 with a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF). The original music for the film was not located during preservation and a new score has been written and performed in the restored version.

Lathrop relied heavily on natural surroundings in the film and location shots include Girdwood, Cordova and Anchorage. The sequence which recreates the crossing of the Chilkoot Pass influenced both Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” and “The Trail of ’98” by MGM which came out a couple of years after “The Chechahcos.”

Cap Lathrop’s nephew Austin Cooley donated what was thought to be the only existing print of the film to the University of Alaska in 1971, but a better quality copy was found later at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art and loaned to UAF for the project.

The word chechahco, or cheechako, means “tenderfoot” or “newcomer” to the North. The NFPF describes the movie as “the story of two good-hearted prospectors who take in a young girl, apparently left motherless after a ship explosion. As the sourdoughs strike it rich and grow prosperous, the younger falls in love with their ward. All learn through hard experience that disreputable gamblers can be as dangerous as the frozen north.”

The film is available for check out from the Rasmuson Library and as part of a 50-film set produced by the NFPF at www.filmpreservation.com .

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