“Children of the Arctic” features how this generation of teens are keeping their culture alive.
Published April 6, 2016
BARROW, ALASKA — Nick Brandestini’s documentary, “Children of the Arctic,” will have its U.S. television premiered last night on the WORLD Channel. as part of the fourth season of AMERICA REFRAMED, public media’s newest documentary series hosted by Natasha Del Toro.
The film will be available for free streaming on www.worldchannel.org starting Wednesday, April 6, 2016.
At the Arctic edge of America, Native Alaskan teenagers strive to be both modern American kids and the inheritors of an ancient whaling culture and tradition.
CHILDREN OF THE ARCTIC is a year-in-the-life portrait of Native youth coming of age in Barrow, Alaska. For Josiah, Flora and Maaya, growing up is more complicated than it was for their ancestors, who originally named the place “Ukpiagvik” (“where we hunt snowy owls.”). They belong to a remote people and culture that has endured for millennia on an isolated tundra (a large area of flat land in northern parts of Alaska with no trees and frozen ground). As descendants of Alaska’s Iñupiat Eskimo people, they are inheritors of a centuries-old way of life that emphasizes traditional mores about community, the role of elders and the Iñupiat relationship to nature.
Proud of their Native heritage, the teens are also modern Americans facing stark realities: a fast-changing culture and climate, modern consumer economies and the impact of oil-drilling; the teens think about leaving Barrow for city life and what they will make of their future.
However, the community of Barrow is actively reclaiming its language, culture and traditions.
Central to communal way of life is whale hunting, but the melting icecaps make the hunt more dangerous than ever. Native Rights Activist and community elder, George Edwardson speaks with authority about the present state of affairs, “In some areas the ice is melting or gone and the water is too warm. The animals are in shock.” Aerial photographs offer evidence of massive ice cracks in the region.
Alaska’s ecosystem is not the only foreboding loss. Maaya, whose cinematic talent won her a school award for her suicide awareness campaign, travels to Point Lay, a rural community with a population of only 247 residents. Concerned about the rate of suicide attempts and deaths, she speaks to young people about feelings of isolation and depression.
Meanwhile, Josiah and Flora, both 18 years old, have recently married and Flora earns a prestigious scholarship, diverting their future for the time being, despite caring deeply about the preservation of their Iñupiat culture. They move to Fairbanks, but their connection to the land—and especially their desire to spend precious time with their aging grandparents—calls them back home. Will Josiah be able to build a life with Flora as a whaling captain? Will the young couple strike a balance between the ways of their forefathers while making the most of a western education?
Nick Brandestini’s portrait of the contemporary lives of these teenagers and the decisions they have to make about their futures will take viewers away from the average city and into a remote place in the American landscape. As viewers meet and hear Josiah, Flora and Maaya talk about their fears and dreams, they help us understand the divergent values each tries to reconcile.
In 2015, CHILDREN OF THE ARCTIC was named Best Documentary Film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The film also won awards at the Zurich Film Festival, the Rhode Island International Film Festival, the Guam Film Festival, and the Oxford Film Festival among others.
Director: Nick Brandestini
Producer: Vesna Eckert