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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. Written by
Aivaaq, how're you doing?
I'm good. How're you doing?
Good. Are you staying for dinner?
Every chance I get.
Not yet. Darlene had something.
What's for dinner?
All you think about your stomach. I'm cooking tonight. We're having nikipiaq. Real food. You still wanna stay?
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This film is a triumph of Alaskan narrative filmmaking. Showing Alaskan Natives as they really live, including old traditions, dance, and hunting, next to cell phones, hip hop, and drugs. It doesn't get tied up on trying to show the beauty of Alaska, and neither the exoticness of it's peoples. Instead, it uses them to further it's themes and plot. Incredibly sensitive, honest, and entertaining.
While it's easy to say this is a movie about the evils of drugs, or the ability of the arctic landscape to drive one to insanity, the film gracefully dodges such easy targets and focuses on a story about a young man trying to grow up and a community dealing with a tragedy, which are much more open ended, accessible ideas. This allows those without any knowledge of Native Alaskans, or Alaska even, to become entranced by the story.
Don't let the non-pro cast turn you away, either. It is all native persons (no Asians pretending to native American), and the direction makes sure they're up to snuff to all other films by mature filmmakers.
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