Alaskan filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean scores an extraordinary hit with his taut 15-minute morality play “Sikumi (On the Ice).” Set on a desolate stretch of the frozen Arctic Ocean, the film finds an Inuit hunter (Brad Weyiouanna) driving his dog sled on a hunting trip. To his surprise, he finds two of his tribesmen (Tony Bryant and Olemaun Rexford) in the middle of nowhere engaged in violent fight that results in one being fatally stabbed. The killer runs off, but the hunter is able to gather from the dying man that the fight was over a stolen radio.
The killer then returns and begs the hunter to leave the dead man’s body, fearing the news of the stabbing would result in his imprisonment. The hunter stoically weighs the dead man’s pleas, which are accentuated by a return of the killer’s knife.
“Sikumi (On the Ice)” does not possess a single ounce of fat. It moves quickly and crisply, with the three actors brilliantly establishing their tragic roles with rapid yet subtle depth – particularly Weyiouanna, who stoically makes the uncomfortable transition role of witness to a crime to judge and jury for the guilty man. Special kudos are in order for Cary Fukunaga, who turns the barren Alaskan environment into a haunting yet beautiful landscape that seems like a natural setting for a trial of man’s soul.
MacLean is of Inupiaq heritage, making him among the relatively few Native Alaskan filmmakers to receive wide attention for his work. “Sikumi (On the Ice”) premiered at Sundance, but hopefully it will not getting detoured into the Native American film festival ghetto – it is a work of great intelligence and artistry that demands to be seen by as many people as possible.