Below filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean shares a scene from his feature film debut, “On the Ice,” winner of multiple awards, including Best First Feature Prize at Berlinale 2011, Best Narrative Film at the 2011 Woodstock Film Festival and the FIPRESCI Prize for Best New American Film at the 2011 Seattle International Film Festival. It opens in select theaters on February 17. (Go here to learn more about the filmmaker.)
In “On the Ice,” two teenage boys who have grown up like brothers go about their lives in the comfortable claustrophobia of an isolated Alaskan 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.
In this clip we see the two main characters of “On the Ice,” Qalli and Aivaaq, enter Barrow Search & Rescue. Barrow Search & Rescue is a real place and we filmed in the actual building that is used to this day as their headquarters. If a hunter’s snowmobile breaks down far from town, or someone gets stranded in a blizzard, or a boat runs out of gas while at sea, they radio into Rescue Base for help. Everywhere else in the U.S., that job is done by the Coast Guard. However, in Alaska there is a long tradition of community-based Search & Rescue service that tracks back hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
There is an ethos of deep interconnectedness—in Iñupiaq paammaagigñiq—that is built on a more profound experience of cooperation. That ethos is inextricably woven into the indentity of the community and stems from the reality and history of survival in the extreme climate.
As it is, Search and Rescue has an additional importance in the community that goes beyond the services they provide to lost hunters. It functions as a gathering place for men to swap hunting stories, play cards and discuss the issues of the day—the modern-day equivalent of what was traditionally called in Iñupiaq a qarġi.
So it’s into this environment that the boys enter having made the decision to lie to all the men present, including Qalli’s father Egasak who happens to be the head of Barrow Search & Rescue.
Up until now the lie has been something that only existed between the two of them and this is the moment when it explodes out of their control. They are not just telling a lie, they are not just putting themselves on the wrong side of the law; they are betraying their own morality, dishonoring Egasak’s trust, and maybe most significantly, alienating themselves from what is the framework of their lives, their community and culture.
Their lie betrays the ethos of paammaagigñiq and the spirit of the qarġi and they walk through the door at the beginning of this clip only beginning to absorb the severity of what they are about to do
Here’s the trailer: