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Barrow-made 'On the Ice' film to premiere tonight at Sundance

January 21st, 2011 | Alex DeMarban Print this article   Email this article  

Andrew Okpeaha MacLean's film, On the Ice [], premieres tonight at the Sundance Film Festival, in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. The Arctic Sounder interviewed MacLean today in Park City, Utah, where the festival's held. The 38-year-old said he wants to show the film in his Barrow hometown soon.

AS: What's going through your head today?

AM: A lot of things are going through my head. It's obviously really, really exciting. I've been working on it for so long that to finally be able to present it to an audience and add that final thing in, which is the audience, it feels great. And it's also the very beginning of the festival, and all the cast members and the crew members and people that have been involved in making the film are starting to show up here and watch it and that feels awesome too. I mean to get everyone together for this is really rewarding.

Are you nervous?

Yeah, you know, there's definitely going to be some nerves. I feel pretty good right and I'm keeping it together. As things get closer and down to the wire then the butterflies are really going to start to kick in.

What do you hope the audience takes away from your film?

I hope they're entertained because that's what movies are supposed to do. I hope we're telling a story that will keep them interested and keep them on the edge of their seats. And I hope the audiences, especially the audiences outside of Alaska, experience a bit of what life is up in the Arctic, and get a good window on the real strengths of the community and that they'll be engrossed with the characters and respond well to the film.

What do you get if you win? Or are you already a winner?

The film is in competition, so there's judging that happens and there will be awards given out at the end of this week and the winner gets a nice trophy. It's a really nice thing, so it'd be great, but honestly the best thing is to show the film here. (Being among) the competition here at Sundance is a pretty big honor and it's just a great platform to show the film. It just means a whole bunch of people are going to come and be able to see the film and give it a shot at wider distribution, which we are definitely looking to do.

So you hope to have the film play in as many theatres as possible, is that your next goal after this?

Yeah, the film will definitely have a festival life after this one. So it will go to other festivals. And what those festivals will be will be determined as we go along, but beyond festivals is to get it distributed and shown in theatres all over the country and hopefully all over the world.

Do you have special plans to get it to Barrow to be viewed there?

Absolutely. After Sundance, we're going to try to find the time this winter, over the next month or two, where we can come up there and show the film to the community. The community of Barrow was a big part of making the film and we want to share it with them.

Do you see filmmaking as an economic opportunity for the Barrow region?

Yeah, I do, definitely. It's definitely one for the state of Alaska, and I think we've seen that over the past year. Films are shooting up there more and more because of the tax credits passed by the Legislature a few years back. That really put Alaska on the map as a possible place to shoot a film that takes place in the Arctic. And Barrow has twice-a-day jet service, so it's a pretty easy link to get down to Los Angeles or other film centers, so it's very possible. I think there's a lot of infrastructure that still needs to be developed for that to really happen, but I think it's definitely something that's possible, to have a few films shoot there, and when they do they'll bring money in the economy and that's a good thing. After we shot there, there was the film "Everybody Loves Whales," which shot mostly in Anchorage but also came up to Barrow a little bit, and I don't know too much about how the shoot went and what it was like, but it's just an example of things that could happen. I would also hope that more films could be originated from Barrow or within Alaska, so we definitely get a chance to portray ourselves, rather than having people always coming up from outside and portraying our culture. It's important for us to portray ourselves as we see it.

You mentioned better infrastructure still needs to be developed. So what can local schools, community groups or boroughs or cities do to facilitate the film industry in Barrow or the Arctic?

That's a good question that might take some time and thought, but I think filmmaking definitely needs a lot of things, among them transportation. One of the big challenges we faced in Barrow was renting snowmobiles, snowmachines, and if there is someone up there who decides to rent snowmachines or keep snowmachines available for production companies to rent, that's the kind of thing that helps a film get made. Same with equipment trucks. But that's what I mean when I think of infrastructure. But there's also a need for skilled people to work on sets. It's a chicken and egg thing. As the infrastructure gets built, then there's a demand for it, and the demand will only be increased as the infrastructure increases.

Any advice for that kid up in the Arctic who wants to go into filmmaking or acting?

I would say start doing it. It's easier and easier these days to pick up a camera, pick up a Flip camera, or even a cell phone camera and you just start making stuff, just start shooting whatever, and in some ways it's like learning a language, the more you do it the better you get at it, like finding a good shot, or telling a story. Filmmaking is the kind of thing you really learn best by doing it.

Does the Arctic have a huge per-capita potential for good stories to tell?

Yeah, because it's such a unique part of the world. It's not a place where the stories have been told yet. There are so many stories no one really knows about, so that's perfect. If someone can tell those stories and get them out to the world, the world will respond to it.

How are you spending your time? I assume there's a lot of fun events to attend.

It's definitely a lot of fun. I know a lot of other filmmakers with stuff here. It's really great to see them and their work. But it's also a business and part of what we're here to do is to get this film out there and show it to the press and to potential buyers and potential distributors, so a lot of what we're trying to do is set ourselves up for that.

Anything else you want to add to people from Barrow and the Arctic?

I just want to say, 'Hey,' and say thank you to everyone. We couldn't have gotten to this point without the support we had from back home. I'm looking forward to showing it up there and I hope people like it.


Alex DeMarban can be reached at, or by phone at (907) 348-2444.

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