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Whitewater Films’ On the Ice in Sundance and Berlin

Whitewater Films' On the Ice in Sundance and Berlin

One of my favorite films at Sundance was On the Ice which was picked up for international sales by Coach 14 just after Sundance and will show in Berlin’s EFM (showtimes to be confirmed). My previous post on the film contained a number of errors and so I hope the reader will forgive me for reposting this more accurate account of the film.

On the Ice came to Rick Rosenthal of Whitewater Films through Gregory Smith, the TV star of Everwood, an actor “just one movie away from breaking into the consciousness of America” according to Rosenthal, who directed him in the 2005 film Nearing Grace. The two formed a strong friendship during the production and often traded scripts after the film was finished. Smith sent Rosenthal the script for On the Ice, saying it reminded him of Mean Creek, Whitewater’s first film.

Rick loved the script and the short, Sikumi, upon which it was based, written and directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean. Because the film would shoot in Barrow, Alaska, a town not accessible by car, only by water or air, Whitewater had to commit to a payment for supplies to be delivered by ship in time for a production nearly a year away. “In fact,” says Rosenthal, “we were onboard for groceries before we were officially onboard for the film!”

That summer, the project got accepted into both the prestigious Directors Lab and Producers Lab at Sundance where the original and day-to-day-producer Cara Marcous met Lynette Howell who became the film’s mentor. “Lynette’s an awesome producer – of Half Nelson Blue Valentine among others,” says Rosenthal, “And once she became involved, Whitewater took more of a secondary position, helping out with some of the funding.”

Whitewater’s mission is working with first time filmmakers. This is the fourth film Whitewater has worked with a first time feature director: on Mean Creek (his second feature, The Details, premiered this year at Sundance and was acquired by The Weinstein Company for a minimum guarantee of $7.5 million and a P&A commitment upwards of $10 million making it the largest minimum guarantee of the festival.), Scott Prendergast on Kabluey, and Nancy Bardawil on According to Greta. And they are now working on their next project with Matthew Lillard, an actor-turned-director on Fat Kid Rules the World. They encourage first timers to send them material and they have what they believe has evolved into a good screening process.

Read below to learn more about how Whitewater likes to work with first time filmmakers.

 Rick Rosenthal has just returned from Seattle where Matt Lillard is directing some scenes from the script of Fat Kid Rules the World. Rosenthal went up there to do a small shoot in order to get to know the person and personality of the director whose sister, Amy Lillard, coincidentally heads up Washington Filmworks, the state’s film organization. Whitewater found good and willing crew members up there and helped to underwrite a 3 day shoot in order to see Matt in action, to see if they could work together, if he could make a transition to directing, and how he was able to run the show. They had done this with Mean Creek as well with a one day shoot and it had told them a lot. With the Seattle shoot, they really liked what they saw with Lillard at the helm. He was able to direct with a sense of humor and authority while maintaining his original enthusiasm. This may seem like an expensive way to find and test talent but getting to know one another under tough and realistic conditions is very important. “We look at a feature film like a river journey,” says Rosenthal. “It’s not for the faint-hearted. We think it’s a good idea to get to know the people in the boat before setting out to run the really big rapids.”

Whitewater is micro-budget oriented (under $1 million) and they like to shoot in states where there are tax incentives. Certain Providences of Canada also look very attractive. They found Seattle to be very film-friendly, with a good crew base and film-savvy extras.

They are now raising financing for the Matthew Lillard film.

In 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.

Film Contact: Deborah McIntosh, William Morris Endeavor, Phone: (310) 246-3390, Email: dmcintosh AT For international territories contact P.Boye AT

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