• “On the Ice” shows 6 p.m. Thursday, 1 p.m. Saturday at Homer Theatre
The film “On the Ice” premieres Thursday and Saturday in Homer; a rare glimpse into life at Barrow by an Inupiaq filmmaker.
Director Andrew Okepeaha MacLean’s film presents what critics are calling an engrossing and suspenseful feature film about two teenage boys who share a dark secret. Played by Barrow residents Josiah Patkotak and Frank Qutuq Irelan, the boys have grown up like brothers and “go about their lives in the comfortable claustrophobia of an isolated Alaska town.”
Early one morning, on a seal hunt with another teenager, an argument between the three boys quickly escalates into a tragic accident. Bonded by their dark secret, the two best friends are forced to create one fabrication after another in order to survive. The shocked boys stumble through guilt-fueled days, avoiding the suspicions of their community as they weave a web of deceit. With their future in the balance, they are forced to explore the limits of friendship and honor.
MacLean grew up between Barrow and Fairbanks, where both of his parents worked at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
While in Seattle as an undergraduate at the University of Washington, he majored in theatre, acting and writing plays.
“Then when I went home to Barrow, I started a theatre doing plays. We did adaptations of traditional stories. They were language-based to teach Inupiaq. I started thinking from there that it would be nice to reach a wider audience and I saw film as a way to do that,” MacLean said. At New York City University, he studied film, and completed a Master of Fine Arts Degree. Now he lives in New York and visits Barrow.
“I go back there all the time – a few times a year. I think it’s a beautiful place, a strong community in a lot of ways. I hope to make more films there,” he said.
“On the Ice” is a story that tends to focus on the negative aspects of village life, he noted. “It’s a truthful look – there’s as much strength as there is weakness, the challenging aspects of life, the avalanche of pop culture that can be disorienting and can be a confusing thing to deal with. At the same time how the community responds to tragedy shows there’s a lot of strength in that,” MacLean said. They show that strength through their traditional dance, performed in the movie, and through the unfolding attempts at a rescue.
A lot of theaters around the country, including the Lincoln Center in New York, have picked up the film and it has won a slew of awards. “Everybody has heard of Eskimos, but no one has really seen an actor portrayal,” MacLean said. This made the film all the more fascinating to viewers across the country.
“On the Ice” premiered in the U.S. Feature competition in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. While in development on this film, MacLean was a Fellow in Sundance Institute’s 2009 Directors Lab and Screenwriters Lab, and was subsequently named the 2009 George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation Directors Lab Fellow. In 2010 he was one of the first recipients of a Sundance Institute Cinereach Feature Film Fellowship, offered to Lab alumni whose projects push the boundaries of conventional storytelling.
“On the Ice” is based on MacLean’s short film, “Sikumi,” which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking. It went on to win awards at other festivals around the world and was short-listed for the 2009 Academy Awards. His other short films include “Natchiliagniaqtuguk Aapagalu/Seal Hunting with Dad,” which premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and was named one of the 10 best short films at the festival by IndieWire.
Whenever possible, MacLean likes to be at the opening as his film is shown around Alaska. But he is presently at work exploring a new film based on scripts submitted to him. In the future, he plans to make more movies based on the stories from the north.
“My philosophy of working in independent film is to tell compelling stories about interesting and real people. My Iñupiaq culture is a part of the films I make because it is a part of who I am,” he said.
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