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Reality TV casting call for Alaska Old Believers on Kenai Peninsula

Naomi KloudaHomer Tribune
Loren Holmes photo

HOMER -- Three National Geographic producers are coming to Homer to begin casting for a new television series on the Kachemak Bay Russian Old Believer communities.

Executive Producer Lisa Blake considers Homer the hub of Old Believer villages in Alaska. The docu-series casting will start with a meet-and-greet 5-8 p.m. Monday at the Nikolaevsk School. Producers will stay in Homer talking with people interested in participating in the series through Friday.

Each Russian Old Believer family will be paid $3,500 per show to be in the series, which the producers hope to air for three seasons.

“We’re looking for families with big personalities and an interesting story to tell,” Blake said. “We don’t have a preconceived story line -- this is documentary style. We are not creating anything. (The show) is simply to learn about and explore the people in Homer. It is open to anyone who wants to participate, who is interesting and interested in being a participant on camera.”

National Geographic has done similar series on the Amish, the Mennonites and the Hauterites, all closed religious groups working to retain their ancient traditions in a modern world. National Geographic research teams looked into the Russian Old Believers from New York, then sent a small team to Homer in October. Blake came to size up the assignment to see if Homer would be the right location for starting the series. “Even though it was October, I could still tell Alaska is this incredibly special place,” Blake said.

The initial visit starting Tuesday will be for casting. "We would like to see as many people as possible," Blake said. "This is casting a really wide net."

The docu-series will focus on the day-to-day lives of the Old Believers. Homer has four primary villages, all located in remote areas: Kachemak-Selo, Voznesenka, and Razdolna are located 25 miles down East End Road overlooking the Fox River Valley and the hay flats that long served cattlemen in the region. The fourth village is Nikolaevsk, settled in 1967 off North Fork Road on rich farming land. Today, it is across the street from a natural gas well.

Old Believers separated after 1666 from the official Russian Orthodox Church as a protest against church reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon between 1652–66. Old Believers continue liturgical practices that the Russian Orthodox Church maintained before the implementation of reforms, and they were persecuted for it. Groups escaped to various countries around the world in the ensuing centuries, and are said to have come to Alaska in the 1960s.

“This is not a historical retelling. This is today. People want to know what their lives are like today,” Blake said.

National Geographic has already given the “green light” for a pilot on Alaska’s Russian Old Believer families. If that is a hit, the season would cut immediately into the first show.

“Homer is the hub as we are envisioning it now,” Blake said. “The religion is very interesting to National Geographic viewers, that devotion, the gravitas. Our viewers love that.”

Unlike shows such as Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel that go for the nitty gritty and glory in a sensational approach, National Geographic is respectful.

“The National Geographic Society would never go for it being any other way,” Blake said. “We are looking at religious questions -- such as ‘how do you maintain your faith and devotion to traditional values in contemporary America?’ Because it’s National Geographic our approach is very respectful. This is not Jersey Shore. The National Geographic Society would never let that happen.”

Each person interested in the series will need to sit for an on-camera test. At Tuesday night’s meet and greet, the producers will make appointments to meet people in their homes and do on-camera session with them at that time. Call Lisa Blake at (213) 730-4545 for information.

Naomi Klouda is a reporter with the Homer Tribune. Used with permission.