Arctic Son is the result of 10 years of hard work and was inspired by my chance encounter with a former Gwitchin Chief named Johnny Abel. Johnny felt that a film about the Gwitchin lifestyle could be a valuable tool in preserving the culture. I didn’t plan to tell this story through a father and son that had been estranged for most of their lives, but this story emerged as one of the strongest cultural lessons I witnessed. That is the nature of vérité filmmaking — you begin with an idea, but the final film is defined by the twists and turns the characters’ lives take and how it all unfolds before the camera. I’ve learned that it’s a discipline that requires a ton of patience — especially when you are working in an environment in which you are an outsider. I’m fortunate in that I also direct documentary-style commercials and Internet content that have helped me hone my skills to build trust, gain access and tell intimate, personal stories about a range of subjects.
I’m tremendously lucky to have met “The Stans.” They were incredibly generous with their time and open with their stories and experiences. The personal perspectives of the characters in Arctic Son are what make this film unique, what set it apart. During festival screenings I was told over and over by audiences how much they felt involved in this story. People told me they were rooting for the characters — through confrontations, Ski-Doo breakdowns, struggles with the Arctic environment and ultimately their acceptance of one another. That’s what I’m really the most proud of — that I had the ability to disappear with my cameraman and gain access to some very private moments that revealed how the relationship between “The Stans” developed over time. Beyond the words exchanged between the two, it’s often the nuances of their actions and interactions that resonated with the audience on a very human level.
Arctic Son has been called a “quiet” film, and I take that as a great compliment in a media environment that often resorts to shock to reach audiences. My hope is that viewers will tune into these subtleties to see the similarities between this story of modern Gwitchin life and their own stories. By recognizing these parallels, audiences might then realize the importance of family and culture in their own lives. On a larger scale, I think this film should also help people realize the necessity of cultural preservation no matter where they live.
— Andrew Walton, filmmaker