January 17, 2011

Preview of On the Ice

Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | “On the Ice” Director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean

By indieWIREIn the isolated, frozen town of Barrow, Alaska, Iñupiaq teenagers Qalli and Aivaaq have grown up like brothers in a tight-knit community defined as much by ancient traditions as by hip-hop and snowmobiles. Early one morning, on a seal hunt with their friend James, a tussle turns violent, and James is killed. Panic stricken, terrified, and with no one to blame but themselves, Qalli and Aivaaq lie and declare the death a tragic accident. As Barrow roils with grief and his protective father becomes suspicious, Qalli stumbles through guilt-filled days, wrestling with his part in the death. For the first time in his life, he’s treading alone on existential ice.

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]
And:Reaching a bigger audience…

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.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see 11 Native Films at Sundance and Sikumi the Feature Film.

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