Race to Alaska, June 2019

Racing vessels prepare to begin the Race to Alaska on June 3, 2019 in Port Townsend, WA. Photo by Taylor Balkom

There might not be engines on any of the vessels that carry competitors through the well-known Race to Alaska course, but since 2015, there have been cameras.

The annual 750-mile journey from Port Townsend, Washington through Victoria, British Columbia ends in Ketchikan, drawing both solo sailors and teams to navigate the course in any sort of vessel that lacks a motor.

When the race got its start five years ago, Zach Carver knew he wanted to capture the adventure in a unique way from the beginning.

Carver, the film boss of the project, took a break from assisting with the final stages of post-production in Washington this week to speak with the Daily News about the film.

As a film boss, Carver manages the camera crew.

He was hired to shoot promotional footage of the race during its first year.

"And so I approached it like I was making a feature film at that point," Carver remembered. "But then as the race grew, I became more of, like, the person just making the media for the race."

 Carver decided that he needed to shoot the race as if it would one day be a feature-length movie.

 "I've been to film school, and I have an ambition to make movies, and I think I just saw it as a potentially historic thing, you know, the Race to Alaska," he said. "I'm a lifelong sailor and it seemed like a race that would inspire a lot of people and kind of just be something very different. And so if it was a success, I wanted to approach it ... in a way that would allow us to tell the story of it."

After Carver and an estimated 100 participants began the filming process in 2015, the effort for a feature film "resurged" in 2017 and 2018.

Now, years after the first moments of the race were captured, Carver and his crew are in the final stages of post-production in Washington, mixing together the footage and adding voiceovers to the final product.

For Carver, it's not these technical aspects that have proved the to be the biggest challenge for the movie's production — it's the race itself that brings the challenge.

"I would say the biggest challenge of making it into a feature film as opposed to just documenting day-by-day what goes on in the race is how do we structure it? How do we turn it into like, you know, the kind of experience that a feature is?"

The oddities of a 750-mile watery course complicated some elements of the filming effort.

"How do we film people in the middle of nowhere?" Carver questioned. "They have to do it themselves."

Over the years, Carver assisted racers in filming their own experiences. He noted that the experience taught him how to better empower the racers and people he worked with to find different kinds of shots that he himself wouldn't have gotten.

Carver and his crews also collected their own footage, but putting it all together was tricky.

In deciding how to structure the film, Carver drew inspiration from another race documentary, a 2012 movie called "The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young."

The film is based on an annual Tennessee race that draws a daring group of racers to complete a 100-mile course known for its eccentricity and difficulty.

 "The structure of that (movie) is that the race is the protagonist, and the racecourse is the antagonist to all the participants," he said. "And so understanding that and structuring our film around the racecourse and the race was a huge breakthrough and coming to that was really quite hard."

The film doesn't focus on just one year or team, Carver said, but rather "it does a cool thing where we jump around from boat to boat, racer to racer, in what I've sort of described as a revolving door for the role of protagonist."

Carver that by time the race — and the film — ends in Ketchikan, the viewers have bounced "around to a lot of different kinds of experiences," through moments captured by Carver or the racers themselves.

The Race to Alaska film will be shown at the Port Townsend Virtual Wooden Boat Festival, the Port Townsend Film Festival and the Vancouver Film Festival during virtual events throughout the month of September.

"I think it's a very experiential film," Carver said.

In crafting the feature, Carver said he "definitely learned to trust lots of different kinds of people to find a good story."