Film—On the Ice

By Thomas Crawford

An inspired, captivating thriller, On the Ice is above all a film of contrasts. Set in the town of Barrow on the northernmost tip of Alaska, the film tells the story of two young Iñupiaq Eskimo friends—Qalli and Aivaaq—dealing with the typical teen issues of sex, drugs and separation. While they are on a seal hunting trip tragedy strikes, forcing the two boys to fabricate their way out of trouble. While the film’s main plotline dealing in conspiracy is not unique, terrific acting, direction and engrossing subplots underpin the film. Moreover, each of the main characters is depicted as dealing with both the tragedy encircling them, as well as their own personal demons—all of which culminates in a stunning ending.

… terrific acting, direction and engrossing subplots underpin the film.

The friendship between Qalli (Josiah Patkotak) and Aivaaq (Frank Qutuq Irelan) is genuine and provides a unique insight on how Indigenous youth balance the pressures of adolescence with the responsibility owed to Iñupiaq tradition. Director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, in his debut feature film, provides a sense of authenticity—himself a local of Barrow—placing the viewer in a position of empathy with each of the characters. This inspires an odd but pleasant feeling for the audience, where Iñupiaq and American culture meet and sometimes clash.

MacLean utilises the town of Barrow to juxtapose the seemingly endless sunny days and angelic white tundra against an anxious and tense storyline. A welcome aspect of MacLean’s direction is that he does not shy away from issues stereotypically associated with the lives of indigenous people around the world—such as alcohol abuse, drug addiction and teen pregnancy. Indeed, MacLean depicts each dilemma with confronting energy. In one scene, Aivaaq pours the remainder of a bottle of hard liquor on his mother, drunkenly passed out on the couch in their tin shanty.

Underlying themes of identity and destiny provide an intriguing subplot and serve the more useful and entertaining role of assisting viewers to understand how the response to a confronting tragedy may prove universal. To explain more of the plot would diminish its most entertaining content but rest assured, On the Ice is a gripping film with a refreshing twist. More importantly, it leaves you to develop your own conclusions about morality and what can happen when men and women are placed under duress.

… the response to a confronting tragedy may prove universal.

On the Ice screened as part of the Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival at ACMI on Sunday 22 May, 4:00 pm. Click here to read more about Message Sticks 2011.



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