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Sundance Movie Review: On The Ice

January 28, 2011

I was lucky enough to attend a screening of  On The Ice at the Sundance Film Festival last night, followed by a Q&A with the director and crew. For those of you interested in Independent Movies, or good movies in general, On The Ice is definitely one put on your list.

On The Ice is a thriller based in the small Alaskan town of Barrow. It was adapted by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean from a short (Sikumi) that premiered at Sundance a few years ago.

The beginning of the film serves to introduce the incredibly unique northern Alaskan culture; Barrow is like an island of ice, snowmobiles, and the rapidly evolving Iñupiaq culture. Residents travel between their modest houses on snowmobiles, and the teenagers perform in a native dance exhibition before heading to a rap party. This fascinating juxtaposition of history, western culture, and environmental demands create a movie worth watching; but then the actors draw you in.

All of the actors in the film literally had no previous acting experience, which is absolutely astounding considering the magnitude of their performance. The main characters Qalli (Josiah Patkotak) and Aivaaq (Frank Qutuq Irelan), are two friends in the transition period between high school and what comes after high school. For Qalli it’s college, far away from Barrow. and for Aivaaq it’s being a father to his recently conceived child. One morning while hunting, a drug-influenced fight ends with a third boy (John Miller) accidentally being killed. Qalli and Aivaaq, horrified and worried about their future, make a rash decision; a decision which brings chaos and heartache to the secluded town.

With a well-written story, a powerful score, and beautiful cinematography, On The Ice is exactly what you hope a Sundance movie to be. It is a thought-provoking look at self-preservation and friendship, all set against a back-drop never before showcased in a film. If you have the chance to see it before Sundance is over, make sure you do. If not, keep your eyes out, because it’s likelihood of distribution is high.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Kevin Keller permalink
    January 28, 2011 8:44 pm

    I really loved this movie. The setting was achingly real; I have spent time in one of these villages, Kotzebue, and the prtrayal of life here is dead-on. The story itself is riveting and several of the performances, particularly Qualli and his father, are memorable. The musical score was very well done and the visuals were compelling and acurately portrayed the lonely beauty of the arctic landscape. You cannot help but to be drawn into this story. The story is very sad, but at the same time shows the frailties of human nature and the staggeringly challenging difficulties of the transition from adolescence to manhood.

    • January 31, 2011 10:12 am

      Thank you for your added comments! It’s especially cool to hear the feedback from those that have spent time in the areas shown in the film; I watched the film with my aunt, who has also spent some time in Northern Alaska, and her feedback was very similar to yours. I definitely hope that this film/director/actors will have further success in the future, because they certainly deserve it.

  2. Hank permalink
    February 5, 2011 2:03 am

    As the Dad of Qutuq (Aivaaq) I appreciate your evaluation. He put his heart into the role and Director MacClean worked him like his TKD instructor! They are headed to Berlin this month.

  3. February 9, 2011 10:16 am

    Thanks so much for the visit and comment. It’s great to hear that they are heading to Berlin; I hope that they receive the credit that they deserve.

  4. July 11, 2011 10:11 pm

    I like this movie a lot and i had already seen this flick when i came through your blogs. Your review is very genuine.

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