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On the Ice

This screening took place on
Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 8:00pm
Yukon Arts Centre

A thriller set in Barrow, Alaska that portrays the clash of modern and traditional ways for Alaskan Iñupiat in a story about two teenage friends who find their bond tested when a seal-hunting trip goes wrong, resulting in the death of their friend. This film has some content (violence, language and drug use) that may be inappropriate for children under 16.

WINNER
 of 
the 
Best 
First 
Feature 
Award
 at the 2011
 Berlinale
. Opening film of the 2011 ImagineNative Film and Media Arts Festival (Toronto).

NPR in US review:
“In most respects, On the Ice is the kind of straight-ahead, underprivileged-teen drama beloved of Sundance audiences. Packed with teachable moments and a mostly non-pro cast, the film centers on two best friends who get into deep trouble when a fight with a third boy over a girl turns ugly.

The terrible accident that follows becomes a poorly hidden secret that keeps shame, guilt and long-festering resentment on the boil between two very different young men bound by old loyalties. Qalli (Josiah Patkotak) is a stolid, college-bound good boy from a supportive home, while his childhood buddy, Aivaaq (Frank Qutuq Irelan), struggles with the legacy of an alcoholic father who died young and the inattention of a mostly dead-drunk mother.

Indeed, it’s not booze or drugs that threaten the young of this tribe so much as the icy landscape. It’s a cinematographer’s gift — the director of photography is Lol Crawley, who also shot Lance Hammer’s arresting extreme-indie Ballast — but a color-drained nightmare that might drive anyone to drink or drugs. (Or the impulsive violence that drives this film’s bare-bones plot.) Barrow is marooned in an endless sea of white ice, relieved only by the bright red of the boys’ snowmobiles — and of the blood that flows from a fatal knife wound. No wonder that an Eskimo variant of hip-hop — alternating on the soundtrack with an eerie lunar score by Czech-born composer iZLER — serves as an exuberant survival anthem for the youth of Barrow, just as mutant rap forms do for marginalized native youngsters from North America to New Zealand.

Perhaps it takes an insider to tell a hopeful native tale without recourse to goo or mawkish wallowing. However depleted by the ills that plague a region dependent on a single industry that’s threatened by eco-collapse, MacLean’s Barrow clings to the vestiges of a once-vibrant ritual life. Staggering under the collective burden of poverty and the compound troubles it brings, the town’s damaged families — not least its feisty, take-no-crap girls, pregnant or not — still gather organically for the enchantingly named “sing-spiration” that will carry a dead member to the next world.

Many of their ceremonies may be gone or eroded beyond recognition, yet a father finds an inventive way to create a rite of passage for a suffering son and his friend, each groping for ways to tell the truth and move on. Where to, and how it works out, MacLean won’t tell us. But it’s a relief to know that this is one corner of America where helicopter parenting is not an option. Don’t all migrate at once.”

-Ella Taylor, NPR

  • Directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean
  • 2011, Alaska
  • 96 minutes

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