Interview with Andrew Okpeaha MacLean

Andrew Okpeaha MacLean is the Writer/Director of Alaskan thriller “On the Ice”.  The film is a thriller set 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Barrow, Alaska.  It is based off a short firm titled “Sikumi”.  Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Andrew about this new film and what he has planned next.

Mike Gencarelli: “On the Ice” is based off a short film, “Sikumi”, tell us about that?
Andrew Okpeaha MacLean: “Sikumi” translates to “On the Ice” in the Inuvik language. That came out in 2008 and it did very well at several festivals. We actually won the Jury prize for a short film at Sundance that year. That gave me the opportunity to start thinking about making a feature. Both films deal with a killing and the immediate aftermath. The short is actually a period piece set in late 50’s early 60’s. The feature is contemporary and the characters are teenagers as opposed to the short where the characters are adults. The short came from a few different inspirations. I took the characters from another script I was writing based on an event from my grandfathers life. One of the characters is directly based on my grandfather. The script didn’t end up going so well so I took the characters and put them in a different situation. I had always wanted to write a western but based in Alaska. There is something about the landscape there that is appealing. It is very vast and monochromatic.

MG: What made you choose to film 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Barrow, Alaska?
AOM: I am originally from Alaska and I grew up there. Barrow is my home town and I am related to I think half the people who live there. (Laughs) It feels that way at least. I knew the place before I knew the film. The place inspired the film.

MG: Since it was your first feature directing, what were your biggest challenges?
AOM: There were a lot of challenges. I think the most common problem with independent films is money. This was no exception. Where we shot is a hard place to shoot logistically. Getting the cast and crew out on the frozen ocean was tough. There are no roads out there so the only way to get everything out there was to pull it on sleds. The sleds were always breaking down because we were using them so much. One of the cast members happened to also be a mechanic so he sort of became our onset mechanic.

MG: Tell us about your casting process for the film?
AOM: It is all pretty much first time actors. There is not a lot of opportunity to get involved in acting up in the Arctic. I sort of knew going in that we would be finding people who hadn’t acted before. There are just no trained Inuvik actors of the age group we needed that were capable of understanding the characters. I wanted to cast people who were from the culture they were portraying. I also wanted them to be close enough to the lives of characters so that they could understand them very deeply and intimately. We took a big casting trip all over Alaska looking for people. We talked to thousands of people to try and get a sense of if they would be good on camera. We managed to narrow it down to 15 or 20 people who we thought had some real possibilities. We had them go through a week long intensive audition/acting workshop in Anchorage. Out of that we came away with our cast. This was all done prior to receiving any funding for the project. We had to know ahead of time that we had people who could pull this project off.

MG: When can people expect to see the film?
AOM: It opens Feb. 17th in New York and in several cities in Alaska. Over the next few weeks it will be traveling around visiting other cities. If people go to they can see the full release schedule for the film.

MG: What do you have planned next?
AOM: I have a bunch of projects that I am attached to that are in various stages. I also am writing scripts as well. I don’t know what the next project will be to get green lit but I am excited to find out.


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