“An eco-action fantasy that blasts in Mad Max style.”
This quote from Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival describes the Arctic dystopian epic, ‘Polaris’, a film created by Yellowknife-raised director Kirsten Carthew.
Finding success in Canada, the film would open Fantasia, a thrill for Carthew.
“Fantasia is an amazing festival,” she said. “It’s one of the most important genre festivals in the world and certainly in North America. They have a history of championing films from the north. So it’s a real honour.”
Taking time out of her busy schedule, Carthew chatted with the Yellowknifer about her film and what folks can expect from it.
“It’s a feature film,” she began. “And it follows the story of Sumi, who is a 10-year-old girl who was raised by a polar bear.”
“It is set in a future dystopian world, 2144, it’s a frozen world,” she continues. “And we meet the film stars, we meet Sumi with Mama Polar Bear, and they’re following the North Star, which seems to sort of be on the move, and not consistently visible. So they’re changing course to follow the star, and as they follow the star, Sumi is separated from her mother, and is taken prisoner by a group of marauders known as the Morad.
“Then her mission, really for the film, is very simple as to escape capture and reunite with her mother by continuing to follow the the North Star. She has a special connection to the North Star, there’s an element of magic, I suppose. She has tattoos of the North Star on her hands and so hopefully part of the intrigue for the audience is that, you know, they want to find out the connection between the tattoos on her hands and the North Star.”
The film, according to Carthew, came to be following some previous work she had submitted to the Dead North Film Festival around 2015.
“The film was really inspired by a number of different elements,” says Carthew. “One was a short film called Fish Out of Water that I made in Yellowknife.”
“I really love that story world, I love some of the elements in it,” she continued. “Like the colour palette, I like the characters. It was a primarily non-verbal film with some fictional dialogue as well, and there were some magical elements there too.”
The creation of Polaris was also influenced by the vast collection of stories featured in Greek mythology, as well as those that explain different astrological constellations.
“Particularly, stories about the Big Dipper and Little Dipper,” Carthew said. “The Ursa Major, meaning the big water bear, which is the polar bear, and the Ursa Minor, which is the small polar bear.”
“(So) this kind of playful spirit of reimagining mythology about constellations kind of took hold, and I really just kind of channeled the story about it kind of quickly, actually. So, definitely, my experience of film in the North, but also just living in the North and being immersed in nature and in my life in general. Nature has been a major player. So themes of environment and kind of human environmental relations are throughout all my work and, in particular, in Polaris.”
Carthew is now just waiting for what comes next — a theatrical release of the film.
“The film, very fortunately, from the very beginning had a distribution deal in Canada and also has a US sales agent onboard,” she said. “And what that means is that from even before we made the film, we were guaranteed to have a theatrical release in Canada.”
“So in addition to whichever film festivals choose to play the film, there will be a theatrical screening in Canada, which is really exciting because film festivals are fantastic for filmmakers, [but] when a film plays theatrically, it also allows it to be seen by a larger audience and often more of an audience.”
At the time of writing, a release date has yet to be set, but Carthew believes that phone call could come soon.
“My guess is that it will play in early 2023, but that’s just a guess.” she said. “I could get a call tomorrow and say it’s gonna start screening in November. I don’t know. It’s not up to me.”