“Cruise Boom” is a documentary about the community of Sitka as the number of cruise ship passengers explodes post-COVID-19, leaving it to grapple with the “possibilities and perils” of large-scale tourism.
In the process, the 55-minute movie asks questions that should ripple throughout Southeast, and even farther, as other communities face the shift to “mass industrial tourism,” said director Ellen Frankenstein, who made the movie through Artchange Inc., a nonprofit that organizes media, storytelling and community art projects. “I really want communities to think about where they are on the tourism journey.”
“Cruise Boom” will be shown twice this weekend, the first time Friday as part of the Evening at Egan series at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS). That will include a 20-minute talk by assistant research professor Jim Powell before the screening, and a question-and-answer session after. The film will also be screened at Gold Town Theater on Saturday afternoon.
“I think it’s important because the community must determine its own future, and it’s the only way that communities have been able to balance the benefits and impacts that come from cruise ship tourism,” said Powell. The documentary received some funding from a National Science Foundation grant that went to UAS, along with four other universities, to study positive and negative impacts to communities from cruise ship tourism.
The documentary starts with the summer of 2021 and follows through the fall-winter of 2022, when Sitka saw the numbers of cruise ship visitors jump from just under 34,000 to just over 379,000, said Frankenstein, who first moved to Sitka 29 years ago.
“Cruise Boom” isn’t a bash of the industry, but stresses the importance of planning for change, she added. The goal is for it to be “thought-provoking,” while asking tough questions, like how much is too much.
“It includes multiple sides, business owners, Royal Caribbean reps, members of the community,” she said. “It tries to be balanced, but when you ask about certain things it may not be viewed as balanced by certain sides.”
Showing it in Juneau on Friday and Saturday gives her the ability to gauge audience reaction before it heads back to Sitka for a community screening Nov. 15. They are working with distributor New Day Films for wider release.
Juneau experienced that same huge shift in visitors between those same years on an even grander scale — jumping from 124,600 in 2021 to 1.2 million in 2022 — but it wasn’t new. Some 1.33 million cruise passengers visited in 2019, pre-pandemic, and the city had long adapted its retail, tour and entertainment options to accommodate tourists.
Sitka is much smaller, and the change much newer. Cruise ships were still bringing passengers by tenders to Sitka in 2010, with working ships using lightering docks to move cargo.
The Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal came online in 2011, seeing its first ship the following year, but it took the rest of the decade to build up. A big expansion added a 1,300-foot dock, which can accommodate two 1,000-foot cruise ships. The pandemic slowed its development, but it came online in a big way in 2021. The following year was its first full post-pandemic year of business.
Frankenstein, who has directed a mix of short and long films, started capturing responses of residents and others with the influx of tourists in 2021. She showed the rough cut to about 125 Sitka residents in the fall of 2022.
“The reaction was heartfelt,” she recalled. “There were testimonials, pros and cons, people asking ‘What happened to Sitka?’”
It took a year to get to a final cut, an editing process that included tightening and moving some scenes around, along with the sound mix and other finish work needed for it to be presentable to larger audiences.
The time was also needed to come up with funding, “or underfunding,” Frankenstein quipped. In addition to the funding from NSF, Artchange Inc. has received money from Rasmussen Foundation and the Sitka Alaska Permanent Charitable Trust. There have also been contributions from individuals and smaller groups, she said.
Know & Go
What: “Cruise Boom”
UAS Egan Library, 11066 Auke Lake Way, Friday, Nov. 10, 7 p.m. Includes a short talk by assistant research professor Jim Powell as part of the Evening at Egan series. There is no charge for the event. https://uas.alaska.edu/eganlecture/index.html.
Gold Town Theater, 171 Shattuck Way, Saturday, Nov. 11, 4 p.m. Suggested donation at the door: $10. https://bpt.me/6128055.