Lover of film and founder of the Gold Town, Lisle Hebert passes away at 71

Historical photo of Lisle Hebert Sr. with his young son, Lisle Jr. in downtown Juneau. (Courtesy Photo | Claire Richardson)

Historical photo of Lisle Hebert Sr. with his young son, Lisle Jr. in downtown Juneau. (Courtesy Photo | Claire Richardson)

Lisle Hebert, a Juneau filmmaker and founder of the local art house theater downtown, the Gold Town Nickelodeon Theatre, has died. He was 71.

Hebert’s wife, Claire Richardson, confirmed his passing on Wednesday. She said he died Monday evening due to complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He leaves behind his wife, two daughters, Luciana and Gabriella Hebert, and his son Paris.

“He was born two blocks from where he died, at St. Ann’s Hospital of Sept. 5, 1945,” Richardson said. After he found out he had ALS two and half years ago, he decided he wanted to die at home, surrounded by family, which he did, she said.

Hebert was well known in town as a lover of film. He founded the Gold Town Nickelodeon Theatre, worked as a filmmaker and was also a social worker.

In a 2001 interview with the Juneau Empire, he said, “Growing up in Juneau, with the weather so crappy all the time, I watched a lot of movies. I always loved movies.”

Hebert shared the same name as his father, who ran Lyle’s Hardware in the 1950s in Juneau.

Hebert got bitten by the film bug in Seattle during the 1970s, and began filming commercials through the business he founded, Red Eye Movies, in Juneau. He worked as an assistant cameraman for the National Geographic documentary “Amazon: The Flooded Forest.” In the 1980s, he moved to Hollywood to continue to work in film, and then returned to Juneau in 1990.

Hebert made documentaries, like “Crazy,” which was on how society deals with mental illness and homelessness; “Goldtown,” about Juneau’s history; and “Yuuyaraq: The Way of the Human Being,” a docudrama that covers “the impacts of white rule and the influenza epidemic of 1918 on Alaskan Yupik Eskimo culture and their struggle to heal” as per his Kickstarter page.

Larry Goldin, who worked with Hebert as a coordinator on his most recent work “Yuuyaraq,” commented on how hard Hebert worked while making the film. On Hebert’s Kickstarter page, he even mentioned he had ALS and it could be a risk/challenge to filming. Hebert’s ALS had progressed to the point where he was using a special kind of walker most of the time, and while he would stand while at the camera, it couldn’t have been easy for him to travel to remote villages to film, Goldin said. That he persevered, determined to have the stories of the trans-generational trauma the Yupik people experienced be told through his film, is a demonstration of his passion and commitment.

“His films were always very well done,” Goldin said in a phone interview Wednesday, saying that Hebert was always interested in the look of his film, which he said is evident in “Yuuyaraq.” He called the film beautiful, intelligent and complex, and highly recommended people watch.

Hebert also worked with Goldin in some of his films, like “Amazon: The Flooded Forest,” and the unreleased film “One People,” which was filmed in the 1980s in the Soviet Union and covered a “people to people cultural exchange.” They had intense work hours, between 18-20 a day, he said. When Goldin would start to feel overwhelmed, Hebert would remain level headed and would offer encouragement, Goldin said.

“I loved him very much and … I think he was an outstanding human being,” Goldin said.

Jeff Brown, the program director of KTOO, echoed that comment and said, “Lisle was a true bright spot in the community. Down to the final hours, his sense of humor kept the seriousness of his illness at bay. His choice of occupations was just one clue that showed how much he cared for his fellow humans.”

Local Peter Metcalfe recalled meeting Hebert at St. Ann’s Parochial School when he was in first grade and Hebert in eighth grade. Every morning the students would line up for the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer, and the whole atmosphere was quite different for Metcalfe who had just come from kindergarten, he said.

“First-grade, there you are, standing there, literally standing at attention … I just remember feeling kind of anxious and just looking over at Lisle, catching his eye, and knowing everything would be OK,” he said.

They didn’t get to know each other until they were adults, when Hebert shot a free commercial for Metcalfe’s business. After that, they became close friends.

“He was really passionate in his beliefs. He was always ready to discuss politics and argue about that. But his main concern in politics that I know of is that we have compassion for other people,” Metcalfe said, detailing Hebert’s social work, especially with the mentally ill, such as with Juneau Alliance for Mental Health Inc.and Bartlett Regional Hospital.

Richardson spoke about how so many people in town had rallied around Hebert to help him with his illness and support the family. At least 60 people signed up to provide meals for the family during the past year, she said.

“What made him so beloved was the fact that he genuinely cared about people and genuinely cared about Juneau,” she said. “A lot of his work, his film work … he cared about these issues deeply and then he would go and do something about them.”

• Contact reporter Clara Miller at 523-2243 or clara.miller@juneauempire.com.

Editor’s Note: Claire Richardson told the Empire that her husband recently wrote an essay called “Ode to Juneau” meant to be read by others — it was so new that she hadn’t had time to read it before he passsed. She read the below portion for the first time over the phone.

Excerpt from Lisle Hebert’s Ode to Juneau

“Until a few years ago my life had been a good ride. But, instead of crashing into a wall, I got ALS which is a slow rolling death sentence in which you watch your body wither away. But, it does give you time to think about things and it has been a learning experience for me. I didn’t know there was so much love and kindness in this world. You helped teach me that. You and the community of Juneau have helped keep me and my family afloat with waves of kindness and friendship.

I hope you all remember this when you are depressed and in rough times. The goodness in humanity is often overlooked. It doesn’t make the front page. IT IS HERE THOUGH! You are evidence. This has renewed my faith in the goodness of people and renewed a fading hope that something resembling Heaven could be built on earth.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article said Hebert passed away at age 72. He was 71. The Empire also incorrectly stated Hebert left behind three daughters. He leaves behind two daughters and one son.

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