Inspired by mythology, fantasy and stories of nature, Northern dystopian thriller Polaris is set to appear on big and small screens as early as 2022.
The film, a collaboration between Yellowknife-born filmmaker Kirsten Carthew and Whitehorse producer Max Fraser, follows the story of a young girl trying to find her way home after escaping capture from warriors who want her mother dead.
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic forever-winter and focuses on themes of nature and the relationship between humans and their environment.
The film’s protagonist is able to navigate the harsh environment through lessons learned from her polar bear teacher – played by 26-year-old polar bear and on-screen veteran, Agee.
Carthew said she has always loved both fantasy and the outdoors. “Most of the stories I tell have something to do with both,” she said.
Carthew compared exploring relationships between humans and animals, to travelling somewhere without knowing the language or the customs.
Humanity and intuition are on full display, she said, as you’re forced to relate and communicate in the most basic ways.
Among Carthew’s former works are Dead North short, Fish Out of Water, and award winning feature film The Sun At Midnight – both shot in the NWT.
Carthew wrote Polaris to be filmed in the NWT as well, though it was instead shot in the Yukon for financial reasons.
Carthew called Northerners “ambitious,” “extremely hard workers,” and “hardy troubleshooters.”
She said collaborating between territories helps create networking opportunities and build the industry.
K’a Nakehk’o, a Yellowknifer who worked as a production assistant (PA) on set, was among those taking advantage of the partnership.
Nakehk’o hopes to pursue film as a career and touts the opportunity to have spent five weeks helping out with the camera crew, driving cast and crew to and from sets and rubbing shoulders with production staff of all kinds to learn the ropes and take in as much as he could.
“It was awesome to work with so many people in the industry and getting to pick their brains,” he said of the experts he met.
In the five weeks he spent on set, each day was varied.
“Even if we’re working on one scene for the whole week, we’re capturing different camera angles, and doing different things each day.”
For all the new things he tried, and people he met, Nakehk’o’s biggest takeaway was “how far having a good attitude can really get you.”
For his own career, Nakehk’o said he sees himself working in front of the camera.
Growing up, Nakehk’o loved superhero movies. He noticed from a young age, however, that the lead actors were mostly white.
“It would be awesome to get more Indigenous faces in TV and movies,” he said, “to give Indigenous people a good name and talk about things people might not know about Indigenous people.”
To grow the industry for Nakehk’o and his cohort, Carthew said decision makers need to recognize film as a viable industry in the NWT.
She sees significant interest and creative talent in residents of the territory, but resources and funding are necessary to nurture those projects.
“I think there’s a real challenge in the North whereby people think filmmaking is purely about art. That’s a huge part of it, and for most filmmakers that’s the motivation, but it’s also an economic industry that requires funding and returns funding to industry.”
Through the film commission and the advocacy efforts of individuals and organization, there has been progress in gaining industry recognition, but there’s more work to be done, Carthew said, to create a landscape for telling Northern stories in Northern settings.
Polaris received funding primarily through national and regional funds, as well as through partnership with the NWT film commission to pay expenses and wages.
The film’s bill is hovering around $2.5 million, though it could easily have been a bigger production Carthew explained.
Once complete, Polaris will be screened on broadcast networks – though Carthew couldn’t say which – in addition to its theatrical release.
Post-production is set to take the crew until the end of the year, after which Carthew said she’s “excited to show the product to the North.”
“The NWT can feel really proud of the work they’ve done.”