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Sundance 2011: 'On the Ice' warms up the audience

January 22, 2011 | 11:00 am

Los Angeles visitors are forever complaining about how chilly Park City, Utah, can be during the Sundance Film Festival. But no matter how many (or how loudly) Hollywood wimps gripe about the freezing weather, director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean understands the real extremes of marrying movies and the cold: He shot "On the Ice" in Barrow, Alaska, where temperatures dipped well below zero during production (the balmy temperature in Barrow on Saturday: minus 31 degrees).

The winner of a 2008 Sundance jury prize for his short film "Sikumi," MacLean in "On the Ice" looks at a pair of Inuit teenagers who inadvertently kill a friend in a drunken fight, then make the very bad decision to say that he died in a snowmobile accident. As they try to hide the real circumstances of what happened, the two find that their relationship is as fragile as some of the ice on which they walk.

Much like "Winter's Bone" a year ago, "On the Ice" takes audiences into a part of the country -- and a way of life -- that most moviegoers have never seen or even considered. MacLean cast the film with amateur Alaskan actors and shot the movie not on soundstages but in the real homes, bars and offices of Barrow locals. The director, who lives in Alaska, said the temperatures were so cold during filming that video playback monitors were rendered useless.

"On the Ice" is a truly homegrown movie. The film went through the Sundance Institute's screenwriting and producing workshops, and because founder Robert Redford has made Native American projects a Sundance staple, "On the Ice" was in many ways a perfect dramatic competition entry. The movie hasn't yet been picked up.

And, after seeing how real people function in real cold, maybe the festival's Southern California guests will finally shut up about Utah's weather.

-- John Horn

Photo: A scene from "On the Ice." Credit: Sebastian Mlynarski