Action: Student project hits silver screen

Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2009

It is not unusual for high school students to produce songs, poems and slide shows for their graduation programs this time of year, but not many productions go on to become Hollywood major motion pictures.

"We always do a big extravagant thing for our graduates, but this year it just got bigger and bigger," said Tiffany Persinger, 18, an Academy of Higher Learning graduate in Sterling.

The students had planned to put together a movie featuring some of their classmates, and the idea grew, eventually nabbing the attention of Hollywood film director Mike "Archie" Archambo.

"Archie got wind of it through a friend of a friend of a friend," said Keenan Wegener, 14, also an academy student.

"He decided to come up from Hollywood and brought two professional actors, Mitchell McCurdy and Dave Drinkwater," Wegener said.

Without giving away too many details or the ending, Persinger and Wegener said the story line goes like this:

A half-dozen teenage students decide to go off snowboarding without telling their parents they're going, much less where they're going. The students face a number of calamities and learn to deal with the situations with which they are confronted by learning to depend on one another and by learning the need to have faith in God. They need to humble themselves and put down their pride.

The snowboarders end up being out in the elements for three days, often enduring temperatures of 48 degrees below zero, hence the title of the film: "48 Below."

"Some days it got that cold," said Persinger about days the students and actors were out being filmed. "Everybody was freezing; even the camera wires froze and broke."

Some of the filming, which was completed in six weeks, was done along Turnagain Arm and a little in Kenai, but for the most part, the entire movie was shot in Sterling.

"The Sterling community all pulled together, helping with the lights and camera, and some brought in food," Persinger said. "They even opened their homes to us to warm us up and warm the cameras."

Jose Puentas, who operates Cook's Corner Tesoro in Sterling, closed the business for three days so the youths could film there.

Other students starring in the movie are Joshua Butler, Sarah Morris, Travis Gage and Kalee Brusven.

A special preview screening will be Sunday morning at the Ministry of the Living Stones Church off Otter Trail.

Persinger and Wegener said KTUU Channel 2 TV expressed interest in covering the premiere Sunday.

Director Archambo is planning to come up from Hollywood and church Pastor Vicki Walber's manager is traveling from Los Angeles.

The students said Walber was instrumental in training the young people to be comfortable with themselves and with what they were doing.

"We all had fear problems. Some didn't even want to talk," Wegener said.

He said the film will be made into DVDs, and Persinger said the students are hoping for international distribution.

During the project, Persinger said she learned to overcome fear, "to believe in God ... that everything is in his hands."

"I learned to believe in myself and to rely on my friends," she said. "I learned teamwork and learned to persevere."

Wegener's experience was similar.

"Just to watch everybody come together," he said. "I learned to believe in myself. (Acting) is work ... it is not a walk in the park."

Persinger and Wegener both expressed an interest in pursuing acting as a career, and Wegener said the church-school organization is building a studio in Sterling -- the Sterling Crown Studio.

Although the premiere screening Sunday is by invitation only, the students said they are in talks with local movie theaters possibly to show "48 Below" in Soldotna and Kenai.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

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