By: Darida Rose
We had the chance to ask Mark D. Rose some questions about his short documentary, Alaska Long Hunters. This is the remarkable true story of Mark’s youthful exploits as a bush pilot. We follow him through several perilous episodes. And in the last, most frightening one, we hear the story of his conversion to Christianity. This is a fascinating film on several levels. It’s visually beautiful and also quite thought provoking. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): First, as a bit of follow up from the film, I read on your website that you went from being a bush pilot to working in mines. Could you tell us how long you flew bush planes and what kind of work you did in mines? Mark D. Rose (MR): Great question! I started flying in Alaska and got my licence when I was 16 in Juneau, flying with Gayle Ranney who we interviewed in the film. As far as my mining work, crazy story - I owned a wireless tech company and helped the mines near Juneau on the surface. One day their chief engineer approached us with the idea of cooperating with a British firm to provide wireless for their underground guys. We ended up creating a great partnership that goes on to this day (funds my expensive film habits!)
(PJ): I watched this film without knowing at all what it was about and I was very surprised that the real focus was on your conversion to Christianity. Was that the intent? To jolt the audience the way you were jolted?
(MR): Going through a hard time in life later on, I could never shake the experience, so I wrote the book 'Last of the Long Hunters.' That book made it to #1 in Kindle Aviation/Adventure genre a number of times. Eventually and at the urging of my family and friends, (even an Eskimo at a village once) I flirted with the film idea and eventually we took that course. Very fun but also a perplexing time, reliving my youthful mistakes - embarrassing thrills and spills so to speak. Yes, my conversion was dramatic for me as I was an atheist and a very convinced one at that.
(PJ): Do you think it’s possible to explain to non-believers what your experience was really like? It seems to me, being agnostic, that it’s just about impossible to convey what the religious experience is like in a way that makes sense to those who haven’t had it. You’ve felt something that non-believers simply haven’t. (MR): I completely appreciate your thoughts on that one. Well, as you watched the film, you know that my experience came immediately after I said my first prayer. That's significant. I little bit of mindless and bold faith led to the experience I had. It wasn't until I read the book 'Heaven is for Real' over 30 years later that it hit me that the voice I heard in the cockpit addressed me as 'son.' Then it hit me that I was not anyone to earn to be called such, especially from God! (PJ): The other thing that surprised me was that your experience caused you to stop believing in naturalistic evolution. The change from non-believer to believer makes perfect sense. But did you immediately stop believing in evolution or was that a more gradual process?
The film was based on a book. What made you decide to make the film as well? (MR): On the faith/evolution issue, being brought up in a secular American education system, I was a thoroughgoing evolutionist through and through. Some of my student friends in high school challenged me about that but I was as stubborn as they. I later went through a crisis and after having that cockpit experience, and the helicopter crash, led me to put it all on the table philosophically, and seeking peace about the thing led me to pray that night on the extraction flight in the Twin Otter. (As in the scene, there was actually a blond sitting next to me..) Ha! That was a complete accident by our actors.. Only in post did I see they had put our expediter aboard. Truth was, I had actually had read the Bible cover to cover prior. (PJ): Could you tell us about the production? How long did it take you to make this film? Were there any unexpected difficulties? (MR): Another great question! It took us parts of three years to make Alaska Long Hunters. I was hoping to get our production team as much "Alaskanized" as possible. That came in many forms, one was that after shooting an air - air sequence, our first director called my room completely broken down emotionally, he had just received word that his best friend (also a professional pilot) had crashed the same day he was airborne, and had lost his life over in Canada. That broke up the filming for a few weeks. When they returned, his (and the teams) attitude about flying safety really changed. On a brighter note, in the scene where we shot dropping the arctic survival suit to Mick, it actually dropped in the river, never to be recovered (bye bye $600..) That same evening a terrific thunderstorm hit us, threatening to cut off our path home that evening. To me, that was so odd, it felt like something was trying to stop us. Also, one morning the film team and actors woke up to a big ruckus going on outside their cabin - it turned out to be two bull moose sparring. Stuff like that. Further, meeting and using local talent turned out very positive also. (PJ): Do you still live in Alaska? Has it changed a lot since you were a bush pilot. (MR): I now live in Oregon and fly back and forth. I advanced my wireless technologies then sold out a few years back. Still fly my own fixed wing and helicopter. (PJ): When I was a student, I worked at a fishing lodge in Northern Ontario and the only way you could get there was on a Twin Otter that was built in the 50s. I was pretty astonished at how primitive the plane was and how old it was. Has the art of bush flying changed much over the years? (MR): Those Twin Otters are still flying, wonderful bird, We are surrounded by the single Otter version with Turbine engines there in Talkeetna, hence why we were able to rent one we used it the film, has the same cabin and overall look. Note poor weather still causes many accidents in Alaska. Plus lots more aircraft there now than when I was in it. Our current plan is to remake Alaska Long Hunters as a feature with acting all the way through. Hard to beat story, but we are planning to reenact the helicopter crash, and search and rescue story fully. To be called Alaska Rescue Story. www.alaskarescuestory.com Thank you for this opportunity to share. Folks can also follow us on FB www.facebook.com/alaskarescuestory