Real Deal: Soldotna filmmaker works on Bush pilot documentary

Posted: Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Alaska photographer Jim Oltersdorf is comfortable flying around outside of an aircraft.

M. Scott Moon
M. Scott Moon
Soldotna filmmaker Jim Oltersdorf and his co-producer Laura Hinz are nearly done with a second movie about Alaskan Bush pilots.

In fact, he did it all the time to capture the right footage for his upcoming self-produced documentary, "Alaska Bush Pilots The Real Deal, Commercial Operations."

"I've got the best seat," Oltersdorf said about his usual perch on a door-less side of any small aircraft.

Oltersdorf's latest work is a follow-up to his DVD, "Alaska Bush Pilots The Real Deal," which was distributed worldwide in February of this year.

His latest documentary focuses more on the technical capabilities of small aircraft used in rural Alaska.

He said it was important for him to portray the reality of Alaska's bush pilots using sophisticated equipment and making reasonable flying decisions.

"It dispels the notion that these are a bunch of crazy people with pilots' licenses out there flying innocent passengers," Oltersdorf said. They're not risk-takers, he said.

"It's not put a knife in my mouth and go out and fight bears," he added.

It's actually more about trying to avoid the bears on the runway.

Oltersdorf told a story about getting footage for the documentary and running across three bears on the beach where the plane's pilot, Mark Price, was going to land.

"Pilots on the Outside don't have to worry about giant, Alaskan brown bears on the runway or eating you when you exit the aircraft," he said. That scene "personifies what the pilots in Alaska experience."

And his film tries to capture all of that, plus the majesty of Alaska, from the cockpit of a bush plane.

His documentary contains stories from pilots statewide, from Homer to Bethel.

"It's just great to get out there with the pilots and able to fly and experience it, it's 'the real deal,'" said the documentary's co-producer Laura Hinz, quoting the film's title. "You can't get any better than that."

And Oltersdorf is the real deal, too.

When he cannot find music he likes to fit scenes in his productions he composes it himself, and calls in local musicians to contribute.

His music and film-editing studio is all contained in his home he built himself on Mackey Lake Road in Soldotna. Connected by boardwalks, his wood home and accompanying guest cottage are more like something out of the Swiss Family Robinson than a Hollywood work space.

Although Alaskan topics have become increasingly popular in the media with the rise of Sarah Palin and shows like "The Deadliest Catch," Oltersdorf said that does not matter to him. He said he is not trying to capitalize on any of that with his documentary.

"I'm very interested in portraying it the way it is," he said.

With Ted Stevens untimely death due to a small plane accident this summer, Oltersdorf said his documentary really underlies the importance of pilots' decisions and aviation safety.

"To me, the mark of a good pilot is saying we're not going," he said. "Air errors are extremely dangerous and you only get one. This is no joke up there, it's serious business."

And even though Oltersdorf is interested in displaying realities, he's also hoping to inspire dreams.

"A little boy somewhere is dreaming about being a pilot and this is a vehicle to kindle his interests," he said.

He also said the documentary will give tourists interested in seeing Alaska a better idea of what being a bush pilot is actually like.

"If some people want to come to Alaska to take a flight, now they know," Oltersdorf said.

After "Alaska Bush Pilots The Real Deal, Commercial Operations" is released on Dec. 15, Oltersdorf will begin work on two other related works -- one about pilots in Australian Outback and one on missionary pilots in Africa.

He described his life not as "living on the edge" but rather "peaking" over it -- from the side of an airplane.

"It's a heck of a lot of fun," he said.

"Alaska Bush Pilots The Real Deal, Commercial Operations" is available for pre-sale on Oltersdorf's website

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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