May 08, 2010

Sikumi on YouTube

Last year I mentioned Sikumi as one of the films helping to preserve Native languages. Now here's the full story on it:

Barrow film honored at Sundance festival

Inupiaq-language drama can be viewed online today

By Sarah Henning
The 15-minute film is about a seal hunter named Apuna who witnesses a murder on the sea ice. Because anonymity doesn't exist in Barrow, Apuna knows both the killer and the victim.

"He has to struggle with doing the right thing, or caving in to the friend who committed the crime," said Brad Weyiouanna of Barrow, who played Apuna.

Because the town is small and isolated, MacLean said, it was an ideal microcosm for exploring how one person's actions can affect an entire community.

"It's actually a fairly universal story, but set through Andrew's lens," said film producer Cara Marcous of New York City. "I think he's telling what is really a moral decision story, in real time. I think it's specific in its portrayal of this culture, but it also connects with people regardless of where they're from."

To MacLean's knowledge, "Sikumi" is the only feature film entirely shot in the Inupiaq language. (A 2002 full-length feature from Canada, "Atanarjuat" or "The Fast Runner," used dialogue in Inuktitut, a related Inuit dialect.)
Sikumi (On the Ice)“Sikumi (On the Ice)” does not possess a single ounce of fat. It moves quickly and crisply, with the three actors brilliantly establishing their tragic roles with rapid yet subtle depth–particularly Weyiouanna, who stoically makes the uncomfortable transition role of witness to a crime to judge and jury for the guilty man. Special kudos are in order for Cary Fukunaga, who turns the barren Alaskan environment into a haunting yet beautiful landscape that seems like a natural setting for a trial of man’s soul.

MacLean is of Inupiaq heritage, making him among the relatively few Native Alaskan filmmakers to receive wide attention for his work. “Sikumi (On the Ice”) premiered at Sundance, but hopefully it will not getting detoured into the Native American film festival ghetto–it is a work of great intelligence and artistry that demands to be seen by as many people as possible.
Sikumi (On The Ice)Filmed by DP Cary Fukunaga in wide shots that seem to swallow up the principal characters, or in impressionistic close-ups of dogs, knives and blood, Sikumi is certainly stark, and yet there is room even in this cold, austere backdrop for the warmth of the human spirit, so that the short can end with a vision that all at once encompasses man's tiny insignificance in a hostile universe, and yet redefines and affirms the very values of humanism. Many films of much longer duration struggle to capture so powerfully or so clearly so complex a moral paradox.Official site

Watch the whole 15-minute film here:

Rob's thoughts

  • What stands out for me is the quality of Sikumi's cinematography and editing. It seems very professional--not what you'd expect in someone's first movie.

  • The same applies to the acting. There's little of the hamminess or obviousness you see in a novice production.

  • The use of the Inupiaq language isn't that big a deal, since there isn't that much dialog. It's not as if anyone utters long speeches full of complex ideas.

  • The talk of a "trial of the soul" or a "moral paradox" seems overblown. Every crime and medical show on TV offers equally compelling dilemmas.

  • The story and the dialog are timeless. They could've occurred 10, 100, or 1,000 years ago. But the appearance of binoculars, rifles, and a radio place Sikumi in the modern era.

    It's good to see a traditional story in a modern setting. The implication is that the Inupiaq language and culture endure. Physical details may change, but beliefs and values are eternal.

    Basically I'd say Sikumi is a small gem of a movie. I wouldn't call it a stunner or a masterpiece, but it's better than most short films of its type. Watch it when you have 15 minutes to spare.

    For more on the subject, see Sikumi the Feature Film and The Best Indian Movies.
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