Alaska officials disappointed by film's Cape Ann location

Stephanie Silverstein

The transformation of downtown Rockport into Sitka, Alaska, for Disney’s filming of “The Proposal” starring Sandra Bullock may have been exciting for many Cape Ann residents, but elected officials in Sitka were disappointed in being cast by a seacoast town on the other side of the continent from them.

“It’s always neat to have your hometown featured in a movie,” said Sitka Mayor Marko Dapcevich, adding, “If a film is going to somewhat showcase your community, you would really like it to be your community being showcased rather than another community that is impostering your town.”

Accessible only by air and sea, Sitka is located on Alaska’s Baranof Island on the outer coast of Alaska’s Inside Passage. The population is just under 9,000 people, compared to Rockport’s 7,475. Dapcevich describes Sitka as “the largest city in America,” by land area, not population.

Despite being on an island, Dapcevich said Sitka is easily accessible, and that Disney/Touchstone Pictures would have been welcome to film there.

“When they first explored options for making that film, we heard pretty loud and clear what they were looking for,” Dapcevich said. “[They were] looking for incentives and tax breaks and financial motivation. We are not in a position to do that.” He added that the state, like Massachusetts, has recently passed legislation that gives the film industry incentives for filming in Alaska.

Scott McAdams, president of the Sitka School Board and an employee at the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, was disappointed in the missed opportunity for the city to host “The Proposal” cast and crew for authentic Alaska footage.

“I just think that it was an opportunity lost. It’s unfortunate that the film studio went to the Eastern Seaboard to film what should have been a Sitka film,” McAdams said. “It’s unfortunate that they threw a couple phony totem poles up and decided to call it Sitka.”

McAdams, who saw photos of Rockport published on the Cape Ann Beacon’s Web site, said that some of the signs and banners that were put up for the filming look like replicas of those in Sitka.

“There’s a ‘Welcome to Sitka’ sign that is, I think, almost a verbatim replica of a sign that we have here, right where our cruise ship visitors get off when they come to visit. But other than that, I don’t think it looks like Sitka at all. Some of the signage is similar.”

McAdams said cultural sensitivity is also an issue, especially with the “phony” totem poles. “They could have spent a few extra dollars and barged their equipment and flown their cast into Sitka as opposed to Rockport and had the real thing available to film. That representation of Sitka so far from being true to form, to me, is obnoxious.”

There are some similarities between Rockport and Sitka, despite being on opposite sides of the continent. Both have a thriving arts community, tourism, commercial fishing, and a vibrant fishing economy.

In Sitka, construction of a $17 million performing arts center is nearing its completion. It’s part of the high school, but one of its original intended uses was to hold the summer music festival, which has world-renowned classical musicians. The festival has decided to continue using its current building, but it could have been a mirror image of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival’s Shalin Liu Performance Center, scheduled to open in June 2010 — at an estimated cost of $17 million.

“It would be really neat for us if Sitka could be portrayed like it really is, which is a really amazing place with a lot of different cultures, a lot of diversity, a lot of lifestyles,” Dapcevich said. “Not having seen the movie, you never know how you’re going to be portrayed.”