News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, November 9, 2017
Deer Isle native among those recognized for radio project

Start of a Soundwalk

Isaac Kestenbaum and Josephine Holtzman hand out headphones at the start of a Soundwalk in Anchorage. Kestenbaum was recently recognized for a collaborative project he created and produced, along with wife Josephine Holtzman, to tell the story about how climate change is and will affect rural communities in Alaska.

Photo courtesy of Isaac Kestenbaum

by Monique Labbe

Deer Isle native Isaac Kestenbaum was recently recognized for a collaborative project he created and produced, along with wife Josephine Holtzman, to tell the story about how climate change is and will affect rural communities in Alaska.

The project, “Frontier of Change,” was funded through the Association of Independents in Radio, which paired independent radio producers with public radio stations in Alaska. The couple pitched their idea to the news director at the KNBA radio station, and the team began the nine-month program almost immediately.

“Part of the goal was to experiment and tell stories with new voices,” said Kestenbaum.

The radio station, which is one of the largest native-owned radio stations in the country, gave the crew the platform to reach out to several communities throughout Alaska to glean knowledge and historical accounts of life in the state decades ago. What started out as a project to discuss climate change implications to everyday life soon became a platform for lifelong residents to share their accounts firsthand.

“I was really struck by how much climate change really affects culture, and just how intertwined those two things are,” said Kestenbaum.

Residents of Alaska rely on hunting as a source of food, particularly subsistence hunting, which requires several layers of ice to hunt everything from fish to whales. As climate change has crept along the waters surrounding Alaska, that ice has become compromised, making that sort of hunting difficult during much of the year.

With a strong fishing community and a certain secludedness about it, Kestenbaum said he found himself talking about Maine often while in Alaska.

“I think, in the media, we often times see this romanticized version of Alaska,” he said. “And I’m sensitive to that because I think, and there are many great things written about Maine as well, but the media often seems to do the same with Maine.”

Kestenbaum also said that Mainers and Alaskan natives share the same sense of independence and self-sufficiency when it comes to the work they do to provide for their families.

“I thought Maine was hardcore, and it certainly is, but Alaskan folks are just on another level,” he said.

Once the project was completed, the crew started getting suggestions about awards to apply for. One of those awards was through the Online News Association through its Localore: Finding America initiative. They were named one of three finalists for a new category created to recognize the innovative and explosive growth of audio and immersive digital storytelling. The crew attended an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. in early October, where “Frontier of Change” was announced the winner.

“We didn’t know we had to give a speech if we won until we got there, and Josie said she didn’t want to do it and no one else did either; so, luckily I had a little notebook with me and wrote a few things down,” said Kestenbaum.

Looking back on the experience, Kestenbaum said he is most proud of the collaborative effort between all the producers and directors, as well as local Alaskan natives, that made the project so successful.

“We didn’t want to go in, tell stories and then leave,” said Kestenbaum. “We really took the time to collaborate with the locals there. That helped me think about their stories and how to tell them.”