In this utterly engrossing, suspenseful feature-film debut by award-winning short filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, the snowy Arctic plains embody Qalli’s lost innocence, while the claustrophobic town mirrors his entrapment, as he trudges through layers of deceit and the gauntlet of how to be a friend and a man. [Synopsis courtesy of Sundance Film Festival]
About ten years ago I was living at home in Barrow, Alaska, writing and directing plays with a small theater company I co-founded with a cousin of mine. We put in a lot of work into the pieces, and I’m proud of them, but Barrow has a pretty small audience base (the population 5000 or so). Film seemed like a way to tell stories that were relevant to me and my culture while reaching out to more than the 400-500 friends and relatives who would come to our plays.
A short leads to a feature…
“On the Ice” has a pretty interesting history. It’s based on my short film “Sikumi,” which means ‘on the ice’ in the Iñupiaq language. “Sikumi” was at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking. I wrote the short as a writing exercise when I had writers block while working on a script based on an event from my grandfather’s life. So some of the characters have their roots in real people, but they’ve changed a lot along the way. “On the Ice,” the feature, is very different from “Sikumi,” the short. The characters are younger, and the story is more contemporary because I wanted to highlight some of the challenges facing kids in small arctic communities like Barrow.