Saturday, 22 January 2011
SUNDANCE 2011: On the Ice
Starring: Josiah Patkotak, Frank Outuq Irelan, Teddy Kyle Smith, Adamina Kerr, Sierra Jade Sampson
By Alan Bacchus
Qalli and Aivaaq are a pair of Alaskan homies, though they wear parkas and drive snow machines, they talk like regular kids with the language and lingo of hip hop culture. Maclean paints this cross cultural picture with refreshing colour especially in contrast to the recent Inuit-based features from Canada such as The Fast Runner, or Before Tomorrow.
As his first feature out of the gate, director Andrew Maclean shows us a modern version of Inuit life in Barrow Alaska, a cold dreary place with six months of daylight and an endless perspective of white snow as far as the eye can see.
These young kids can have as much fun as any suburban kid, the opening act injects a kind of hip energy reminding us of Lee Tamahori’s aggressive introductions in Once Were Warriors. After a local house party Qalli and Aivaaq and their friend James decide to go on seal hunter trip on the lake. But when a minor squabble sees James accidentally stabbed and killed, the two friends find themselves making split second life changing decisions. In this moment they decide to hide James’s body and make up a story that he fell threw the ice.
This is the boys’ shallow grave and they just don’t have the emotional capacity to survive the psychological turmoil of hiding their crimes. It’s Qalli’s father that heads the investigation, a conflict oddly Shakespearean in it’s complexity. And so Maclean’s unique slice of life becomes a transplanted thriller with the kids‘ lives and once optimistic futures at stake.
Unfortunately Maclean is let down by his actors, most of whom sadly just don’t have the chops to pull off the emotional complexities of their heavy emotional journies. It's the kiss of death really for a film such as this. Frank Qutuq Irelan as Aivaaq has a unique and innate toughness and edge required for the hotheaded role as the clique leader. But as the more conservative academic-smart Qalli, Josiah Patkotak is just too wooden for us to get invested in his adventure. Most of supporting actors are hit and miss, but mostly misses.
It’s a shame, because On the Ice seemed to be one of the buzz films of the festival, generating long lines well in advance of the screening. Maclean’s previous Sundance Awards for his short films and his participation at the Sundance Lab with this project were signs of promise, but the final effort has the misfortune of failing to live up to these enormous expectations.