On the Ice


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 the incident, and that lie inexorably catches up with them. They hide a corpse, smoke crack, and college-bound Qalli (Josiah Patkotak) begins to waver in his determination to escape a culture of poverty, alcoholism, and teen pregnancy as blood and guilt seep into the pure white snow. You could call this ethnodocumentary 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.