Wednesday, December 7, 2011
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10th, 2012
NYC - Lincoln Center, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
NYC - Village East Cinema
LA - Laemmle Music Hall Theaters
Anchorage - Regal Tikhatnu Theaters
Fairbanks - Regal Goldstream Stadium 16
Stay tuned as we announce more theaters and dates in other cities!
Also, check out our BRAND NEW WEBSITE
And our OFFICIAL TRAILER! (click full screen to see it much bigger)
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Our sincere thanks to imagineNATIVE for making it possible to bring Qutuq out all the way from Nome! It was such a pleasure to be a part of everything and meet all the other amazing filmmakers and audience involved. Quyanaq!
Monday, November 7, 2011
CUCALORUS Film Festival - Wilmington, North Carolina
Co-producer Kate Dean, Production Designer Chad Keith and Prop Master Jonathan Guggenheim will all be in attendance
Thursday, November 10th
City Stage Theater
Sunday, November 13th
City Stage Theater
MORE INFO for Cucalorus screenings
AMERICAN INDIAN Film Festival, San Francisco
Writer/Director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean and Producer Cara Marcous will be in attendance.
CLOSING NIGHT FILM!
Palace of Fine Arts
Friday, November 11th
MORE INFO for AIFF screening
VANCOUVER INDIGENOUS Media Arts Festival, Canada
Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema, SFU Woodwards
Saturday, November 12th
MORE INFO for Vancouver screening
Thursday, September 29, 2011
I just wanted to make sure that all of you who aren't a part of our Facebook group know that we have some festival screenings coming up...
Palo Alto International Film Festival
Friday, September 30th
Palo Alto Square
Saturday, October 1st
Palo Alto IFF website
Visionmaker Film Festival / NAPT (Lincoln, Nebraska)
Friday, September 30th
Saturday, October 1st
Visionmaker FF website
Monday, September 26, 2011
Andrew and I traveled to upstate New York this weekend to one of our favorite festivals, Woodstock FF. We've been once before in 2008 with our short film SIKUMI, which ended up winning Best Student Short at that time. We were in competition at Woodstock this time with ON THE ICE and were thrilled on Saturday evening when OTI was awarded Best Narrative Feature and Best Cinematography for our DP Lol Crawley. (Because Lol was not able to come to Woodstock for the festival, I accepted his Best Cinematography trophy award on his behalf)
Click HERE for the full press release online.
Although there were many more we wanted to see, we were able to see three fantastic films. The films couldn't be more different from each other, but they were all excellent. We finally got to see Josh Leonard's film THE LIE which everyone should look for in a theater near you in November. It is at once hilarious, deliciously uncomfortable and genuinely touching. We also saw Mark Simon's fascinating documentary UNRAVELED about lawyer Mark Dreier, who stole hundreds of millions of dollars from hedge funds and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2008. The third film we saw was TILT, a captivating Bulgarian indie about a group of street kids living and loving in the midst of political upheaval during the fall of Communism. See this film for its exceptional performances and editing. TILT won the editing award at Woodstock and Honorable mention for Best Narrative Feature. If you want to learn more about these films go to the Woodstock Film Festival website.
Our thanks and hugs go out to the wonderful Meira and Laurent. You run a very special festival and we were honored to be a part of it.
Friday, September 9, 2011
Click HERE to watch some thank you videos that we posted yesterday. Cara's comes up first in Update #16; Andrew's is at the bottom of Update #15.
We can't wait to celebrate with all of you at the theaters!
Sunday, September 4, 2011
Inupiaq filmmaker turns to kickstarter.com to reach theaters (UPDATED)
Posted by thevillage
Contributor: Kyle Hopkins
Posted: September 1, 2011 - 3:00 pm
UDPATE: The kickstarter.com total for "On the Ice" just jumped another $10,000 in donations. That means the filmmakers are now within $30K of their goal.
From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --
“On the Ice” is halfway to a theater near you.
Producers of the independent, Barrow-based thriller have raised $40,000 of the $80,000 they say they need to show the movie in about 10 theaters around the country.
The filmmakers started the fund-raising push earlier this summer on www.kickstarter.com, a website that asks people to pledge donations to creative projects. If a project doesn’t meet its fund-raising goal by a given deadline, no money is collected.
For "On the Ice," time is running out.
Starring Alaska Native actors, the thriller premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Awards followed at the Berlin and Seattle international film festivals. But critical acclaim doesn’t guarantee that movie distributors will gamble on putting your film in theaters, especially without a marquee star.
After Sundance, producers of “On the Ice” heard a lot of “I love your movie, but …”
“The film has done really well and gotten all these awards but none of the traditional distributors will really go for it in a big way, because we have all first-time actors,” said producer Cara Marcous.
Some distributors offered to release the movie on screens in L.A. and New York only -- a limited release. The makers of “On the Ice” were thinking bigger.
Plus, Marcous said, they wanted the theatrical release to include cities in Alaska as well as markets like Denver, Seattle and D.C.
That’s where Kickstarter.com comes in. The website, founded in 2009, allows the producers to make their fund-raising pitch directly to fans and supporters.
So far, more than 380 people have pledged more than $40,300 to help “On the Ice” reach theaters. Only a week remains, however, before the 5 p.m., Sept. 8 deadline for the filmmakers to double their money and reach their goal.
The cash would be used to create a trailer for the film, create reels of film that would be shipped to theaters and pay for a publicist, Marcous said.
Typically, distribution would cost far more, but the producers will lean on the Sundance Institute’s Artist Services program, which aids independent filmmakers in marketing and online distribution.
Written and directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, who is Inupiaq, “On the Ice” cost around $1 million to make, Marcous said. It was shot in April and May of 2010 in Barrow.
Here’s how the filmmakers describe the story:
“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.”
See the article online HERE.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Please note: For some reason they broadcast footage from our short film SIKUMI, so the footage you'll be watching while Andrew is interviewed is not from our feature ON THE ICE.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Reel Indian Art
Native Cinema Showcase is a forum for underexposed talentAugust 24, 2011
by Lindsay Jaeger
Conflict, death and a semimonochromatic color pallet
photo by Sebastian Mlynarski
Given the specific nature of the 11th Annual Native Cinema Showcase, which coincided with Indian Market and showed more than 40 films from Native filmmakers worldwide, I was curious about exactly who would fill the auditorium at the New Mexico History Museum. As the week progressed, it became clear: anyone and everyone. The crowds were thick with people laughing, responding, applauding and staying until the end. Still, I sensed that, if it weren’t for this individualized forum—presented by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts—many of these valuable stories would be abandoned to orbit some level of deep obscurity...
...The stunning opening night feature, On the Ice, is an eerily suspenseful, unconventional, contemporary-set noir that plays out in what feels like a strange state of limbo. In arctic Alaska, the sky is always white, mirroring the monochromatic forms of ice and snow below. A character remarks that the sun won’t set until August. When conflict flares between three teenage male friends hunting on the deserted tundra, only two survive. They rejoin their community amid questions and suspicion from all sides. In a place without darkness, there is no place to hide. A powerful ending delivers a complex coming-of-age resolution to this haunting story.
The festival’s films should no more occupy an exclusive niche market than, for example, Weimar German cinema or Italian neorealism. Unique voices, telling personal stories of specific cultures, have the transcending power to achieve universal importance. In terms the industry understands: When audiences appear, as they did this week, movies have already come to life. They deserve a platform to continue existing.
Please note: The above is an excerpt from the full article.
Click HERE for the full article online
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Celebrated Alaska Native Film ‘On the Ice’ Seeks National Distribution
On the Ice, a film featuring an entirely Inuit cast, has won pretigious awards and much praise, but now the Inupiaq writer/director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean is reaching beyond the festival-goers and film critics. He and producer Cara Marcous would like for On the Ice to be shown in theaters all over the country. “We are hoping to be in at least ten cities across the United States later this year,” says Marcous.
In pursuit of their goal, they’ve launched a Kickstarter.com page — an increasingly common approach among filmmakers. Two other Native-themed films of note, Winter in the Blood and The Thick Dark Fog, have used Kickstarter to solicit funding.
“So many great films of the past few years never made it to theaters because the industry just couldn’t find a place for them,” MacLean says.
Eric Kohn of IndieWire picked On the Ice as a “must-see” film as BAMcinemaFest; and at the Seattle International Film Festival, the International Federation of Film Critics awarded it a FIPRESCI prize “For presenting a universal, near-Biblical tragedy set in a little known culture recreated with compelling detail. A story told with outstanding naturalistic performances with a confident, compelling narrative.”
Friday, August 12, 2011
The Kickstarting Never Stops: Three Sundance Films Are Looking for Distribution Dough
Filmmaking may be democratized by more-affordable technologies, but it still costs a hell of a lot of money to get your film seen. From making prints to booking theaters to sales agents to publicists, the expenses stack up. From the 2011 crop of Sundance films, three are currently searching for funds to get their films out to a wider audience.
U.S. Dramatic Competition film “On the Ice” joins Park City at Midnight alums “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same” and “The Oregonian” in a quest for funds from, yes, People Like You. Take a look at what they’re looking for below.
The Project: Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s “On the Ice” debuted as part of the U.S. Narrative Competition and Native Showcase at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, won a Crystal Bear in the Generation 14+ youth section of the 2011 Berlinale. In “On the Ice,” set in the ice-cold reaches of Barrow, Alaska, two young Iñupiaq men, Qalli and Aivaaq, must cover up the death of a friend of theirs—a death that was partially their fault.
Amount Project is Looking to Raise: $80,000
Distribution Plan: From Kickstarter: “Despite the success we’ve had on the festival circuit, traditional distributors are scared of a film with no famous faces, set in a community far outside the mainstream. Awards or not, they don’t want to take a chance on a small, independent film without recognizable stars to help sell it.
“It’s been great taking this film all over the world and introducing it to audiences, but we didn’t make this film just to play it in festivals. So we’re finding another way. Through Kickstarter we’re hoping to raise enough to be able to release the film in at least ten theaters across the country.
“Many great films over the past few years never made it to theaters because the industry couldn’t find a place for them, but with your help we can prove that it is possible for a film like ours to succeed - that audiences will come to a film with a fresh voice, a story full of suspense and humor, with characters and a world unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. We think ‘On the Ice’ deserves to be seen, and we hope you do too.”
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Alaska, Ice and Crowd Funding: An Interview with the Filmmakers of ‘On the Ice’
Writer/director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean and producer Cara Marcous (2010 Fast Track) talk with Josh Welsh, Film Independent’s Director of Talent Development, about their film On the Ice. Set in the isolated, frozen town of Barrow, Alaska, On the Ice is the story of Iñupiaq teenagers Qualli and Aivaaq who 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, Qallii 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.
After premiering at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, On the Ice went on to play major national and international film festivals, winning the FIPRESCI prize at the Seattle International Film Festival. It also screened at the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival as Film Independent’s Project:Involve screening. On the Ice was in Film Independent’s Fast Track program in 2009, and received a Kodak Film Stock grant from Film Independent in 2010.
On the Ice is currently raising distribution funds on Kickstarter.
Q: First off, congrats to both of you on the film and your amazing festival run. For anyone who has not seen On the Ice or is unfamiliar with it, can you tell us what it’s about and where and when you made it?
A: Thanks! On the Ice is about two teenage boys in Barrow, Alaska who get involved in a tragic killing and a cover up. We shot in the Spring of 2010 entirely on location in Barrow which is the northernmost point of the U.S., 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
Q: Since Sundance, the film has played many festivals, winning awards at Berlin and Seattle, among others. How has that experience been for you? Have you been surprised by audience reactions at any of the fests you have attended? What other fests do you have lined up?
A: It’s been pretty non-stop but in a great way. The audience response has been really positive. People are fascinated by the world of the film because for the most part they come in with little, if any, awareness of Barrow in a contemporary sense. The most surprising thing for us so far is that at every festival, no matter where we are, people make comments about it being like their hometown or their community. In some of the seemingly most opposite places, like Istanbul for example, people still see themselves or people they know in the characters.
Q: On the Ice was just announced as one of the films that will be going out as part of the new Sundance distribution initiative. Can you explain how this release will work? Where and when will you be in theaters and also launching online?
A: We are in the process of nailing down our dates, but the release will work like a fairly traditional platform release. We plan to start in three cities and then build from there. The nice thing about our relationship with Sundance, and having more control of the process, is that we can target our release really specifically to the audience we have already built in certain markets, and then use that foundation to expand further than we might have been able to otherwise.
Q: Can you talk about how you’ve used crowd-funding for On the Ice? I know you had a fundraising campaign on the USA Projects website that helped fund your trip to Sundance, and now you have a major campaign underway on Kickstarter to help with the theatrical release.
A: With our USA Projects campaign, we were able to afford to have our two lead actors in Park City with us to help promote the film and to hire an experienced PR company to take full advantage of being there with our actors. In that case the “crowd” was made up of personal contacts for the most part, in addition to the amazing USArtists community. We were also very fortunate to have the exceptional support of the Rasmuson Foundation who provided matching funds to all donations. That made a huge difference for us in terms of motivating people to check out our page.
Our Kickstarter campaign is a more ambitious venture and we’re trying to reach as many people as we can. We’re reaching out through our own grassroots network of supporters as well as through a wide variety of organizations and some media outlets. Once people find out about us, we feel like the project speaks for itself, but we are working pretty hard at getting the word out any way we can. In fact, we are very much open to suggestions, so if anyone out there has suggestions of a community or organization that might be interested in our film, we’d love the heads up!
Q: Going back to the beginning of the film, Andrew, you developed the feature out of your short film Sikumi, which played Sundance and other festivals back in 2008. Can you talk about your process there? Was it always your intention with Sikumi to turn it into a feature? Did the story evolve in ways that you didn’t original anticipate when you were doing the short?
A: I actually didn’t have a feature in mind when I made Sikumi. But it quickly became obvious that there was a larger story to tell. Sundance was the first festival that Sikumi played at, and I started writing On the Ice just after that. From the beginning I knew there were certain changes I wanted to make. I wanted to make the story more contemporary and to make the central characters younger, so I could explore they way kids in the Arctic are forging their identities from both modern and traditional cultures. I think the biggest surprise for me was how much the tone of the film changed. It’s got a completely different feel to it.
Q: Cara, could you talk a bit about how you got the film financed? From a producing perspective, I can imagine this was challenging – you had a cast of non-professional actors, a first-time feature director, and a beautifully written script that had to be shot 320 miles north of the arctic circle. How did you pull it off? Did you have one main investor, or did you pull together financing from a range of sources?
A: Winning the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking at Sundance in 2008 for Sikumi helped immensely in terms of getting people to take the time to read Andrew’s script and watch the short. Andrew wrote a really strong page-turner script, which would get people excited, and then when they watched Sikumi, they knew he could actually deliver as a director.
From my side of things, I knew it was still going to be difficult to raise what we needed to make this in Alaska. It was a complicated film production-wise in an expensive place, so I spent a year and a half raising over 300k in grants and in-kind donations, all non-recoupable funds. I could then go to investors with a project that already had significant financial value, but with no impact on their potential investment in the film. Andrew’s agent Craig Kestel introduced us to Whitewater films and they ended up being our first money to sign on. Then, through the Sundance Creative Producing Initiative, I met the incredible Lynette Howell and she loved the project. She felt strongly that she could help us put together the rest of the budget and we were thrilled to have her expertise on our side. Ultimately, Lynette helped us piece together the rest of our budget with several investors and we managed to greenlight ourselves just in time to shoot the following spring.
Q: Can you both talk about casting the film? You have an amazing cast of non-professional actors for the most part. How did you find them, how did you audition them, and Andrew, once you were shooting, how did you work with them?
A: Andrew and I knew that casting was the lynchpin to the success of the film very early on. My first goal fundraising-wise was to find grant money to support our extensive casting plan all over Alaska and Canada. We ended up applying to the Princess Grace Foundation for a Special Project grant to fund our casting process and when they approved our grant, they basically allowed us to believe that we could make our film. Our casting situation was profoundly unique because there are very few experienced Inuit actors, particularly in the teenage age range of our main characters. We knew we needed time to genuinely reach out to the communities and develop word of mouth in a significant way. Because we both have a background in theater and acting, we felt confident running the casting ourselves and set up an ambitious 3-month journey to 15 communities, as well as video auditions. We met about a thousand people from all over and ended up holding an intensive three-stage call-back process to find our cast.
I think the key to the process was the amount of rehearsal time we had. I was able to work with the two lead characters for a solid month before we started filming, and we slowly added the other actors into the mix as we went. We did some basic acting exercises and a lot of improv work. My goal was for the actors to feel like they owned the parts. So by the time we got on set, with camera and crew, they felt confident about the story they were telling.
Q: Cara, can you talk a bit about your experiences as a producer dealing with festivals and the film’s theatrical release? Is there any particular advice you would have for a producer who is in production or post-production right now, and perhaps not yet thinking about festival strategy or the way the film will be released?
A: It’s a hard question to answer generally, but in terms of festivals I think it’s important to have a strategy for at least your U.S. and international premieres. Once we had screened at Sundance and then Berlin, we worked with our domestic and foreign sales teams to fully flesh out our overall festival strategy. And our strategy is still developing now as we look ahead to those markets where we think we may have the most activated audience.
In terms of releasing the film, we’re in slightly unchartered territory, so it’s early for me to share any advice. On a basic level though, everything comes down to communication. Right now I am focused on finding ways to delegate appropriately so that I will have the time I need to manage the process properly and communicate with all of our many amazing collaborators.
Q: If someone wants to see the film, or wants to help you with distribution, what can they do?
A: In the immediate future, festivals are the only way you can see the film, but we are hoping to release theatrically late this year or early next year. Once we release theatrically, On the Ice will then be available through a variety of outlets online as well. Our website has all the most current info.
The most powerful thing people can do to help with distribution is check out our Kickstarter page and forward it on to friends. Posting our link on Facebook might sound like a small thing, but thus far it’s been our most effective way of reaching a wider group of people. And if someone wants to help in a more involved way, they should email me and we can talk in more detail.
Q: I’m sure you’re extremely busy with the film’s release right now, but can you tell us anything about your next film(s) or what else you’re working on in the near future?
Andrew: I’m working on a bunch of projects. I have several script ideas that I’m outlining or starting to write. Most of them take place in warm climates. I’m also attached to a couple of projects as a director. Hopefully one of them will catch on soon.
Cara: I’m still fully entrenched in On the Ice, but I am in development on a few different films as well. We’ll see what comes together first but I can’t wait to get back on set!
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
5 Must-See Films at BAMcinemaFest
Entering its third year, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) continues its intention of bringing many of the strongest sleeper hits of the American film festival circuit to appreciative crowds in Brooklyn. The opening night selection Thursday, June 16th is an interesting example: British director Andrew Haigh’s gay romance “Weekend” came out of nowhere to become the breakout hit of South by Southwest in March, but its positioning at BAM makes it one of the stars of the show. There are also plenty of mid-size productions that developed buzz out of Sundance, such as “Terri” and “Another Earth,” both of which will hit theaters later this year. However, the festival’s real strength comes from its selection of less widely acclaimed work that has slipped through the cracks or otherwise avoided the media spotlight. Here are a few memorable discoveries in that vein.
“On the Ice”
Although it played under the radar at Sundance in January, Inuit filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s tense thriller about a couple of rebellious teens in desolate Barrow, Alaska announces a new filmmaker with a firm grasp on the genre. When a drunken night results in an accidental murder, two young men must harbor a dark secret while the authorities traverse the barren terrain in search of the missing body. The scenario isn’t exactly original, but MacLean’s script benefits from making its edgy characters into figures of sympathy: Qalli (Josiah Patkotak) dreams of attending college while his friend Aivaaq (Frank Qutuq Irelan) hopes to settle down with his girlfriend. Their dreams give the movie’s film noir ingredients a real sense of peril, the marriage of high stakes and teen angst put a Hitchcockian twist on the typical John Hughes scenario, and the icy climate introduces an existential creepiness no less unsettling than the empty vistas in John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”
Here's the link to it online.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
June 12, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SIFF Publicity Department
37th SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL WRAPS WITH
2011 GOLDEN SPACE NEEDLE AWARDS
Jury, Audience Awards Given for Best Film, Documentary, Director, Actor and Short Film
SEATTLE – The 37th Seattle International Film Festival, the largest and most highly-attended event of its kind in the United States concluded today with the announcement of the SIFF 2011 Competition Awards and Golden Space Needle Audience Awards. The 25-day Festival, which began May 19, featured over 450 films from more than 70 countries, including 96 premieres (29 World, 42 North American, 25 U.S.) and over 600 screenings. Additionally, SIFF brought more than 300 directors, actors and industry professionals, including Tribute Honoree Ewan McGregor to Seattle, as well as hosted numerous digital Q&As via Skype with international filmmakers who were unable to attend in person.
“I'm gratified that Seattle audiences continue to embrace the Festival’s wide-ranging selection of films from around the world proving that Seattle filmgoers see more films per capita than any other city in the nation,” said SIFF Artistic Director Carl Spence. “For the second year in a row, we have surpassed one million dollars in ticket sales making this another record-setting year.”
SIFF Managing Director Deborah Person said, “2011 has been a monumental year for SIFF, as we've expanded our year-round exhibition programming at SIFF Cinema with record attendance and introduced the work of filmmakers from around the world to more than 10,000 students. With the exciting move into our new home at the SIFF Film Center, filmgoers will experience even more of the best in cinema which will carry on for future generations.”
SIFF 2011 FIPRESCI Prize for Best New American Film
SIFF is very pleased to announce its continued partnership with FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. FIPRESCI, in existence for more than 65 years, with members in over 60 countries, supports cinema as an art and as an outstanding and autonomous means of expression. SIFF is one of three festivals in the United States to host a FIPRESCI jury, and this year, FIPRESCI presented an award to Best New American Film selected from the New American Cinema program.
On the Ice, directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (USA, 2011)
Jury Statement: “For presenting a universal, near-Biblical tragedy set in a little known culture recreated with compelling detail. A story told with outstanding naturalistic performances with a confident, compelling narrative.”
The FIPRESCI jury was comprised of members of the International Federation of Film Critics: Peter Keough, USA; Gideon Kouts, France; and Lucy Virgen, Mexico
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
Seattle International Film Festival
Saturday, June 4th at 9:30pm
Sunday, June 5th at 11am
Friday, June 10th at 9pm
Berkshire International Film Festival
Friday, June 3rd at 6:45pm
Sunday, June 5th at 1:30pm
Provincetown International Film Festival
Thursday, June 16th at 2pm
Sunday June 19th at 11:30am
BAM cinemaFEST (Brooklyn Academy of Music)
Screening date/time: Friday, June 17th at 6:50pm
LA Film Fest (LAFF)
This screening is free! You just have to make sure to come early enough to get a seat.
Regal Cinemas LA Live 10
Screening date/time: Sunday, June 19th at 6:45pm
Nantucket Film Festival
Friday, June 24th at 12:30pm
Saturday, June 25th at 5pm
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Indigenous Say It on Film
By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, May 25, 2011 (IPS) - From the Australian bush to Alaska’s Arctic wilderness, indigenous peoples’ stories and perspectives take centre stage at the Message Sticks Film Festival, the only annual event of its kind in Australia.
Message Sticks opened at the Sydney Opera House on May 13 and tours nationally until Aug. 24, through remote Aboriginal communities in the towns of Broome, Townsville, Cairns, Alice Springs and Yirrkala, besides screening to mainstream audiences in state and territory capitals.
"The festival has grown in terms of audience and the quality of works," said Australian indigenous film and documentary director Rachel Perkins.
"The pool of indigenous filmmakers has also grown with more access to targeted programmes for skills development. This, coupled with the means of production becoming more economically viable, has meant that there is more content to draw from," Perkins, who has been the festival curator for the past 12 years, told IPS.
A decade ago it was difficult to get an audience for an indigenous film, but interest in contemporary stories on native peoples has grown substantially.
In the 1970s, there were no feature films with an indigenous Australian in a key creative role. But the first decade of the 2000s has seen native filmmakers contribute to nine features and 16 TV dramas, according to Screen Australia’s The Black List, which catalogues the work of 257 Aboriginal Australians on a total of 674 screen productions.
The Sydney Opera House started Message Sticks in 2000 to commemorate "Sorry Day", a tribute to the so-called Stolen Generations—tens of thousands of indigenous children forcibly taken from their families between 1900 and 1970 under the Government Assimilation Policies to "breed out" Aborigine blood and supposedly provide them with a better life.
Although Message Sticks began in this context, Perkins said, it is now a niche festival showing the best indigenous films from around the world.
A standout film at this year’s event has been "On the Ice" by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean. It won the Crystal Bear and Best First Feature at Berlin, and demonstrates a filmmaker working at the top of his craft with an appreciation for storytelling, but strongly grounded in the indigenous and very contemporary world of filmmaking.
MacLean, who grew up in Barrow Village in Alaska’s Inuit (Eskimo) nation, said "My film is set in the aftermath of a murder and explores themes of morality. Even if one escapes, there is no real way of getting away from the crime, which ripples out into the community and impacts people on the periphery. In our village of about 4,000 people, everybody knows everyone so crime in the village, unlike in a big city, is not anonymous or impersonal."
The film is an extension of a short film MacLean, an Iñupiaq, made in 2008 called "Sikumi", which won the Sundance Film Festival Jury Prize on Short Filmmaking that year.
While technology is making it easier for indigenous films to reach out to a global audience, MacLean, who has a Masters degree from the New York University film school, said, "For small independent films with no great stars, there is no government funding and it is difficult to raise funds. It took three years from script to screen."
The festival opened in Sydney and Melbourne with Australian indigenous writer and director Beck Cole’s debut feature "Here I Am," which tells the story of a young woman’s difficult journey reconnecting with her mother and daughter after being released from prison.
Karen, the central character in the film, faces the difficult truth that shame is a powerful force, and sometimes the most important person to forgive is oneself. "It was my desire to tell a story about a family of women trying to mend itself and to give audiences an opportunity to enter a world they otherwise might not know about," Cole told IPS.
Aboriginal adults, who comprise around two percent of Australia’s total adult population, make up over 25 percent of prisoners, and Cole is hoping her film would help many of these adults forgive themselves and reconnect with family and society.
According to the 2006 census, Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders comprise only 2.5 per cent or 517,000 of the country's 22 million population. They have been one of the most marginalised populations in the developed world.
But their identity is evolving, said Perkins. "In the most positive sense, it is defined by having a consciousness about the original culture of Australia and an identification and connection with that heritage, whilst also embracing the experience of living in a contemporary Australian society."
Actress, writer and director Pauline Whyman, who hosts the festival tour, told IPS, "Message Sticks films often have the effect of drawing you into the sheer diversity of the story telling and the breadth of talent the filmmakers share that brings excellence in filmmaking to the world."
In recent years, indigenous filmmakers have achieved both critical and commercial acclaim. "Filmmakers have developed their skills over time. We are seeing filmmakers graduate from short form works to narrative movies. This has meant we have a wider variety of dramatic works to choose from," Perkins told IPS. The other films that premiered at Message Sticks include Native American director Billy Luther’s "Grab," an intimate portrayal of Grab Day in the villages of the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico; Mexican director Carlos Pérez Rojas’s "And the River Flows On," about the conflict between the Mexican government and the indigenous communities threatened by the La Parota hydro-electric dam on the Papagayo River in Guerrero state; and Australian director Ivan Sen’s "Shifting Shelter 4" which follows the lives of four young Aboriginal teenagers dealing with the harsh realities of life and raising their own families.
Perkins said the government has committed to supporting indigenous cinema as a contribution to Australian culture. "The immediate challenge is that demand for quality indigenous content has increased, so we must now focus on identifying and supporting new indigenous talent to take up this opportunity," she said.
Click HERE for the article online.
Andrew and I had the great fortune to be invited to Australia for the Message Sticks Film Festival, hosted at the incredible Sydney Opera House.
We were able to send some time with many talented artists there including Rachel Perkins, Darren Dale, Jessica Beck, and Tammy Davis. All of them are pictured here, except Jess.
Andrew participated in a fantastic panel with Warwick Thorton (writer/director of the Camera d'Or winning film "Samson and Delilah"); Wesley Enoch (playwright, director, artistic director of Queensland Theater Company), Stephen Page (artistic director of the Bangarra Dance Theatre); Hetti Perkins (curator at Art Gallery NSW) and Rachel Perkins (Festival curator of Message Sticks Film Festival).
It was the best panel I've been too in a very long time. Rachel did an excellent job of mediating, leading the discussion with humor, warmth, and candor. It was refreshing to hear such a diverse group of people frankly discuss their experiences as Aboriginal artists in Australia in 2011, as well as the complex politics that go along with it. Andrew functioned as an outside voice that offered a useful comparison from a place with a very different, but not entirely dissimilar, history. I can't quite believe I'm saying this, but I didn't want the panel to end. If they put the video of it online I'll try to post it here.
While we were in Australia, a troubled man climbed the Harbour Bridge in protest over something involving his child's custody case. He made it to the top of the bridge, unfurled a huge banner that said "kids first!" and then stopped traffic for hours and hours because the bridge security there was worried he or someone else would get hurt if cars were allowed to pass by. Anyway, I don't know all the details, but the bridge was quite the topic of conversation. Picture it with a huge ON THE ICE banner instead. Maybe I should give that guy a call.
ON THE ICE is being co-presented by the Sydney Film Festival. We were there for the Sydney Film Festival launch at the Customs House and have a nice page in their program. It is an adventurous collaboration between the two festivals; our film marks their very first co-presentation. I hope it has blazed a trail for other partnerships in the future and we're looking forward to developing it further.
Our second screening in Australia was in a suburb of Sydney called Blacktown. We had a lively Q&A with a diverse audience of people from all over the world. Afterwords we had the great pleasure to meet a wonderful group of Sudanese artists who have settled in Blacktown after being sent there as refugees. Many of them have lived there for over 10 years and told us about their theater work in the community.
Our Blacktown screening started off our national screening tour of Australia. If you live in another area of Australia and would like to see our film please click HERE for more information.
The last thing I'll mention is the moving performance we saw by Ursula Yovich. She did a cabaret night of songs and personal stories that we loved. She's exceptionally talented--quite a diva, in the best sense. She did a beautiful rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the three languages of her life, Brada, Serbian and English. You can watch a video of her doing it in Melbourne at a different event HERE.
We're back in New York for a short time and then we're off to the Seattle International Film Festival on June 1st. Andrew and I will be mentors in Native Lens' Superfly filmmaking workshop for young people. More on that later.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Andrew Okpeaha MacLean Captures Life on the Ice
by Paulette Beete
Situated amidst miles of Arctic tundra and geographically isolated even from other parts of Alaska, the town of Barrow, the northernmost point in the United States, might seem an unlikely place to launch a film career. But that's exactly where filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean -- whose first feature-length film On the Ice was recently honored at the Berlin Film Festival -- first decided to step behind the camera.
An Iñupiaq Eskimo, MacLean grew up mostly in Barrow and Fairbanks. After earning an undergraduate theater degree at the University of Washington, he decided he wanted to improve his Iñupiaq language skills and headed back to Barrow where a cousin convinced him to start a theater company. "It was a theater dedicated to performing in the Iñupiaq language. We would write plays with the help of elders who spoke the language more fluently and then we'd perform them and have to learn the lines entirely in Iñupiaq," he explained.
While MacLean enjoyed his theater work, he wanted to find a way to reach people beyond the local community. "I [wanted] to do something on a larger scale and reach a wider audience, and films seemed a way to do that. I could be making things that were centered in Barrow or that really spoke to who I was and where I was from, and be able to reach out to people that were beyond the communities where I was living." Despite having no film experience, he was accepted to New York University on a scholarship, and a filmmaker was born.
All of MacLean's films to date have been set, at least in part, in Barrow and its surrounding landscape. As is true with all hard-to-reach places, the inhabitants of Alaska's North Slope remain a mystery to outsiders, and much of their characterization in popular culture is half-truth verging on caricature. MacLean's filmmaking is a reflection of his desire to let people know what being an Eskimo is really like. "We're in a kind of strange position that everybody in the world has heard of Eskimos. Most people have some kind of strange notions -- they rely on stereotypes they've heard….We're like a punch line or something. Nobody really knows us. I want to make art that is reflective of a more genuine aspect of our experience."
He added that there is an implicit political angle to his filmmaking. "In the Arctic right now, we've got this avalanche of information and narrative and stories that just piles into our lives from the dominant Western culture. Movies, television, Internet, Facebook, music…I want to start answering that back. I want to start making people listen to us for a change. I've seen a million movies about you guys, now here's a movie about us that you have to sit and watch."
MacLean said physical environment looms large as he develops his projects, which isn't surprising given the dramatic landscapes of his childhood. "I think that environment and place have been important in everything I've done as a filmmaker. The Arctic is a unique place, and it really has this feeling of being at the end of the world. I tend to try and exploit that or to use that in the films I make."
MacLean's use of landscape to heighten emotion is especially evident in his short film Sikumi (2008), which received numerous awards at North American film festivals and is the first film shot entirely in the Iñupiaq language. In the opening scenes, the viewer is confronted with white as far as the eye can see. Sky and land are virtually the same pale, icy shade, and the hunter and his sled dogs seem impossibly small against the vast blank canvas of the hunting ground. A friend of MacLean's characterized the atmosphere as akin to that of a classic Western, and indeed, despite the film's short length, the moral battle that plays out between the two main characters has the epic scope of a John Ford vehicle.
"I think part of being out there in this incredibly open, desolate landscape gives the feeling that the characters could get away with anything. We created a kind of moral ambiguity….You bring your morality with you and you can't escape it even in places like that," said MacLean.
That question of morality and how a person's moral code is affected by place and by culture compelled MacLean to make On the Ice (2011), which is in many ways an amplification of Sikumi. Like Sikumi, On the Ice also starts with a murder, but then follows the characters as they return to town and wrestle with the consequences of their actions. It is important to note that On the Ice is not just a continuation of or sequel to Sikumi: the characters are teens, the action is set in the 21st century, and the characters speak mostly in English. (In Sikumi, the characters are much older, and the setting is the mid-20th century.) This was an important shift for MacLean as it allowed him to explore how the younger generations of Iñupiaq live.
"I was interested in what young people are going through up there right now and where they're drawing their identity from," he noted. "They're caught up in this maelstrom of information and story and everything just getting poured into them from outside. But at the same time, they're very conscious of where they came from and who they are as Iñupiaq. So they're really drawing their identities from two very different places: from traditions that stretch back for hundreds and thousands of years, and then also from contemporary pop culture that reinvents itself every 15 minutes. That kind of violence [in the film] happens all over the world, but I wanted to make the response to it specific. I wanted to look at how these kids would respond to it as somebody who comes from this specific community, from this specific culture."
Although most news stories refer to MacLean as a Native filmmaker, it's a title he wears lightly. "Nobody wants to be ghettoized. Nobody wants to be stuck with a label that limits your possibilities. I look at myself as a Native filmmaker because I'm Native and because I'm a filmmaker and it just makes sense. It's something that I'm proud of." He added, "I think the only potential negative is when people…attribute any sort of success to a kind of affirmative action or this sort of cultural curiosity. Fortunately, we can answer with the films that we make and with how well they actually do and the audiences that they actually reach."
MacLean cautioned, however, that though his culture permeates his work, he doesn't consider himself a cultural preservationist. "I'm too young to be a tradition bearer; that's the job of the elders. The films I make are part of the conversation, but they're not there to preserve something. That would put them in the position of being more or less museum pieces."
Instead, his goal is to use film to be honest about the community of which he's a part -- culturally, historically, and environmentally. In fact, MacLean believes that honesty is the primary job of the artist. "The responsibility of the artist is to make work that's real and that's reflective of something that's true. You have to be true to your own vision of the voice you're trying to find. I've seen with other filmmakers…especially in Native communities, that people get defensive or people get upset with artists who bring a negative aspect of the culture to light. I remember when Chris Eyre made Skins and people were giving him crap because he was doing a film that referenced alcoholism in the Native community. But to me it seems obvious that that is part of what an artist is supposed to do, to provoke those sorts of things."