On the Ice crosses River's Edge and The Fast Runner

If I said "Eskimo hip-hop crime tale," would that send you running to the nearest sunny beach? Shot on location in far northern Alaska with a native cast and writer/director (Andrew Okpeaha MacLean), On the Ice is a marvel of concentrated, classical storytelling. The flat, snowy landscape strips away all but the essentials from its tale: Two teens, best buddies from different families, have a bloody encounter on a hunting trip. They lie to their parents and community about it, and that lie inexorably catches up with them. They must hide a corpse, they smoke crack, and college-bound Qalli (Josiah Patkotak) begins to waver in his determination to escape a culture of poverty, alcoholism and teen pregnancy. Blood and guilt seep into the pure white snow. You could call the film ethno-documentary noir, since MacLean includes elements of Iñupiaq language and culture. Living in cheap housing in Barrow, the natives have uneasily adapted to an ancient/modern existence, hunting seals from their snowmobiles on retreating ice, cell phones ringing in their pockets and hip-hop playing at their parties. The film is like a meeting of River's Edge and The Fast Runner.


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