Scenes for polar history film will be re-enacted here in Ely

Ely, renowned as the base of many polar expeditions, is about to host another - or least re-enactments.
On Tuesday Feb. 18, Voyage Digital Media will be recreating scenes at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge on White Iron Lake circa 1909 of Robert Peary’s dogsled expedition to the North Pole.
Actors, including Wintergreen guides, will be dressed in period costumes includes fur parkas as team members.
Wintergreen’s Canadian Inuit sled dogs - the same breed used on Peary’s expedition - will pull an exact replica of his 12-foot komatik dogsled laden with furs & supplies.
The documentary film is being co-produced with the non-profit National Maritime History Society (NMHS) of Peekskill, New York, and made possible by grant funding from Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest and the H. F. Lenfest Fund from The Philadelphia Foundation.
The film tells the story of the Ernestina Morrissey, an historic Arctic sailing ship associated with numerous early expeditions.
This ship was skippered by Peary’s team member Robert Bartlett.
For the Ely shoot re-enactors will play the roles of Peary and Bartlett as well as Peary’s Polar Inuit companions and his career-long expedition colleague, black American Matthew Henson.
That role will be played by Marcus Landrum who is among the craftsmen with KidZibits-Exhibit Design of Minneapolis that created the replica Peary sled featured in the film.
The Peary-MacMillan Museum with Bowdoin College in Maine, which houses the original sled, has provided technical assistance with the reproduction.
Landrum said he’s excited to bring his family up for the filming since this February is Black History Month and the event provides his daughter Sailor a very special project for her high school class report.
Film producer/director Richardo Lopes with Voyage Digital Media and NMHS has produced numerous television commercials, documentary films, off-Broadway plays and the foreign policy series “Great Decisions” for PBS.
His other current documentary project is on the 2009 US Airway flight that Capt. Sullenberger glided without engine power to an emergency landing on the Hudson River.
Wintergreen Lodge owner Paul Schurke said he hosts film crews every season “but this project certainly ranks among the most unique and it will be a personal time-warp for me. The 1986 dogsled & ski expedition that Will Steger and I led to the North Pole replicated elements of Peary’s expedition but we didn’t do it with period costume and sleds - we weren’t wearing caribou parkas,” he said.
Rather they were wearing anoraks & footwear designed locally by Susan Schurke and Patti Steger that led to Ely’s iconic apparel manufacturing businesses, Steger Mukluks and Wintergreen Northern Wear.
Schurke is hopeful the film’s replica Peary sled, the only one known to exist, will find a home in Ely.
That could be at Ely’s proposed Minnesota Canoe Museum (MCM).
Erik Simula, who’s heading that initiative and who may serve as a re-enactor in this film, proposes expanding the MCM concept to include Ely’s dogsledding legacy as well.
That is especially appropriate this winter as Ely will be celebrating 50 years of dogsled racing among events at the Feb. 22-23 Wolf Track Classic Race.
Schurke said his one concern is how his Inuit dogs will do harnessed in a Arctic fan hitch, in which they’ll be splayed out from the sled on long ropes.
“Here in the boreal forest, they’ve always been harnessed two-by-two in the tandem hitch so we’ll see how they respond to a fan configuration. It could be a bit of chaos.”
He also wondered how they’d recreate scenes of massive Arctic pressure ice on the flat surface of White Iron Lake.
But Ely City Public Works suggested an option. Given the season’s record snow pack, the city’s snow dump site east of Ely on Highway 21 is banked with walls of snow 12’ high. “I think it will be an ideal backdrop for part of the film shoot,” said Schurke. “It looks remarkably like the walls of ice we had to negotiate with our one-ton sled loads on our 1986 expedition.”