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Never Had a Bad Day: The Legend of Bernie Karl

What started as a marketing project to highlight Caterpillar customers grew into a full-length feature film when Simantel and Caterpillar met Bernie Karl in person for the first time.

Karl has a spectacular outlook on life. This is evident from the moment the camera starts rolling.

A feature-length documentary film sponsored by Caterpillar, “Never Had a Bad Day” tells the story of Bernie Karl as he prepares for his annual Energy Fair outside Fairbanks, Alaska. The film examines Karl’s drive to solve big problems while showcasing his even bigger personality, detailing his vision for a better future based on his scientific innovations and life experiences in Alaska. Along the way, we learn how Bernie’s family inspires him, how he came to live in Alaska and how he arrived at his belief that literally anything is possible if you work hard enough.

Who Is Bernie Karl?

Inventor, entrepreneur and engineer Bernie Karl runs Chena Hot Springs Resort in Alaska year-round on 100% geothermal power. As a big thinker and fearless innovator, he’s always working on something new. Some of these innovations hold promise for sustainable living, while others – like his ice museum and airplane on stilts – are just plain fun.

Karl was born the sixth of sixteen children and grew up on a farm in Peoria, Illinois, where his father was a world-class photographer for Caterpillar. Watching his father and stay-at-home mother run their home gave Karl a powerful work ethic and the ability to teach himself anything.

Bernie worked at Caterpillar until, at age 20, itchy feet and a dream of making it big had him venturing north to the Last Frontier, moving to Alaska during the pipeline boom of the 1970s. Once in Alaska, he developed his hot springs resort, fell in love, mined for gold, started a recycling business and created a long-running energy fair that attracts governors and senators each year.

“Aside from having led a remarkable life, Bernie is also just a mesmerizing personality,” said Matt Richmond, the film’s director and partner in production company Retriever, which produced the film along with Simantel. “Part mad scientist, part missionary, part PT Barnum, he has an amazing ability to get people’s attention then make them believe that what seems impossible can actually be done.”

A Big Story to Tell

This marketing project turned full-length feature film really caught attention.

“Our goal is always to tell authentic stories about the real people who proudly call themselves Cat customers,” Caterpillar Marketing Rep Sarah McDonnell said. “And Bernie was one of those stories at first. But as we got to know him, we realized his message about hard work and the environment was bigger and more important than our marketing needs. We decided to do whatever we could to tell his story completely and get it out beyond our normal industry audiences.”

Never Had A Bad Day: The Legend of Bernie Karl

Festivals and Awards

• Boston Film Festival – WINNER, AUDIENCE CHOICE
• Green Screen Environmental Film Festival (Trinidad & Tobago)
• Anchorage International Film Festival
• Frozen River Film Festival (Winona, MN)
• Capital City Film Festival (Lansing, MI)
• Lake Travis Film Festival (Texas) – SEMIFINALIST

“Never Had a Bad Day” has been dedicated to Bernie’s late wife Connie and his brother Gary Karl, who contributed to the filming and appear in the documentary. The film had its world premiere at the Boston Film Festival on September 23, 2021.

And Bernie’s story isn’t over yet. He is currently working on a new project – scaling up the geothermal concepts of Chena by harnessing the power of a volcano in the Aleutian Island port town of Unalaska.

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