Children of the Northern Lights
By Andrew Okpeaha MacLean
Two astronauts on a prospecting mission to find a new supply of energy crash land on a distant planet, where alien beings offer a chance at survival – but at a great cost.
Writer and director Andrew MacLean drew his original inspiration for the film from a traditional Iñuit legend of the same name whose ideas had always resonated with him. The legend is about a hunter who comes in contact with a group of mysterious children who are pillaging his food stores. He thinks they are thieves. He eventually discovers that the children are actually the spirits of the Northern Lights, beings drawn from the stillborn children of his people, and they are starving. The hunter is moved by the struggle of these spirits and resolves to focus his hunting on finding sustenance for them. Ultimately, he is able to nourish them, but does not have enough food to feed himself, so he sacrifices his own life for the children’s, and for the vitality and beauty of the Northern Lights.
Andrew felt a natural connection between this story and his own interest in how we balance the needs and priorities of the individual with those of humanity. Through FUTURESTATES, he saw that dilemma in the context of resource exploitation and colonization, and how that might play out in our not-too-distant future.
Although the film itself is obviously quite different from the legend, their shared foundation is clear. The moral questions that the hunter’s situation presents are similar to the conflicts that our lead character grapples with in the film. Should the things that I personally value be more important to me than the things that are valuable to an entire community? Is the answer to that question the same if it is my community or someone else’s? How much will I sacrifice for what I think is right; and how much should humanity or any one society sacrifice for what is right?
—Cara Marcous, Producer
The making of the film began on the ground in the spring of 2012. First and foremost we had to secure workable locations because of how significantly those locations dictated our design decisions overall. Our production design and locations were by far the most intimidating elements of the film to achieve within our budget. With the help of our tireless locations manager Mia Thompson, we found a fantastic metal shop/artists workshop space in Brooklyn for our interior set build.
The search for our exterior location ended up being much more complicated. We needed a very large, treeless but natural environment where we would have the ability to capture long, wide shots that could communicate the expansiveness of the alien moon and the isolation of our characters. We found an incredible multi-tiered rock quarry using Google Earth. It’s pretty easy to pinpoint huge treeless open spaces in their aerial images, but the trick is finding the right person to speak to who might actually be open to the idea of a film crew doing a weeklong night shoot. Very long story short, we were thrilled with the stunning New Jersey quarry and they were game to work with us. It was more than we had ever hoped for and all of us felt like we could finally visualize the essence of the project… then a week before the shoot, the location pulled out.
After many conversations and some serious begging, we came to understand that they were still very open to the film, but their own scheduling constraints had been the real issue. So we were able to reschedule the exterior shoot, but it had to happen over a month late.
Then we focused on working with our exceptional collaborators. Wyatt Garfield and Shlomo Godder, our two DPs, split the job between the interior and exterior shoots. Our fearless production designer Tom McMillan was hard at work at the seemingly insurmountable task of building our space ships (we approached the interior and exterior of the ship as separate builds). Brenda Abbandandolo was working her costume magic despite the limited funds for her department. And Andrew was deep in rehearsals with Mike Crane and Julienne Kim and loving every minute of it. I could gush about the talent and hard work of all these people for pages, but their work will speak for itself. We truly hit the jackpot in so many ways with this team of artists.
Consequently, I can’t mention our department heads without singing the praises of our entire crew. Their positivity and enthusiasm started on day one and was still on full display even at five AM on our last delirious night in space. We had our fair share of disasters which ate away almost a full day of our shoot in an already jam-packed schedule and we couldn’t be more grateful to our team.
There are many more stories to tell, but it’s probably better to leave those in the past. The honest truth is that we actually shot this in space and the aliens are real.
—Cara Marcous, Producer
Andrew Okpeaha MacLean
Andrew Okpeaha MacLean is an Iñupiaq filmmaker born and raised in Alaska. His feature film debut On the Ice premiered at Sundance in 2011 and has won top prizes at the Berlin International Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, Woodstock Film Festival, and American Indian Film Festival. His short film Sikumi won the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking at Sundance 2008. His other films include Natchiliagniaqtuguk Aapagalu (Seal Hunting With Dad), Kinnaq Nigaqtuqtuaq (The Snaring Madman), Such A Perfect Day, and When The Season Is Good: Artists Of Arctic Alaska. He co-founded the Iñupiat Theater, the first theater company in the country dedicated to performing entirely in the Iñupiaq language.
Cara Marcous produced the feature film On the Ice, which won Best First Feature and the Crystal Bear for Generations 14plus at the Berlin International Film Festival, the FIPRESCI Prize for Best New American Film at the Seattle International Film Festival, and Best Feature and Best Cinematography at the Woodstock Film Festival. She also produced the short narrative film Sikumi, the documentary feature When the Season is Good: Artists of Arctic Alaska, and several plays, including the premiere of her own full-length piece Lapse. Marcous is the recipient of the Sheila Johnson Fellowship for the 2009 Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Creative Producing Initiative.
Michael Crane – John Suvlu
Michael Crane’s film and television credits include the upcoming Winter’s Tale, Damages, White Collar, and Law & Order. He played Chancellor Hanson in the short-lived cult favorite Kings. His theater work includes Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, King Lear, and Richard III at the Public Theater. He’s appeared in shows with Playwrights Horizons, Pig Iron Theatre Company, Long Wharf Theater Company, Williamstown Theater Festival, Naked Angels, Cherry Lane Theatre, Woodshed Collective, and Berkshire Theatre Festival.
Julienne Hanzelka Kim – Lila Suvlu
Julienne Hanzelka Kim’s theater credits include Metamorphoses and Golden Child on Broadway, Yellow Face at the Public, The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow at the Atlantic Theater, The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci at Second Stage, and Blood Orange at the Cherry Lane Theatre and the Blue Heron Arts Center. She has also performed in Phaedra Backwards at the McCarter Theater, Language Rooms at the Wilma Theater, and Three Sisters at A.R.T. and the Edinburgh International Festival. Her television and film credits include Law and Order, CI, Rescue Me, One Life to Live, The Tested, and Robot Stories.