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Jaap van Heusden's film project In Alaska will bask in the heat of Cannes following its selection for Cinéfondation Atélier 2019. He talks to Nick Cunningham.

Ten years ago Jaap van Heusden met a teenage boy from a small Alaskan village. According to the director, "nothing was going on, and his whole youth was devoid of light and the possibilities to make music or to express himself, and there were no girlfriends of a suitable age." But he had a tale to tell, that of a man who, a few years previously, did the one heinous, unpardonable thing you must never even contemplate in Alaska. He took a rifle to the oil pipeline, and then went on the run both from the FBI and the very long arm of the Alaskan law.

This story is the inspiration for In Alaska , the €4.1 million film produced by Marc Bary and Steven Rubinstein Malamud for Ijswater Films. In the 90% English-language/10% Inuit production Woody, a seventeen year old boy from a similar Alaskan village, is so depressed he wants to end his life. Instead he replicates the selfsame monumental act of sabotage
and overnight becomes Public Enemy No.1, hunted by special agent Susan Tarheel. But as he runs for his life, he learns for the first time what it truly means to be alive.

"At some point I also decided that part of what attracted me to the story is this other person, the seasoned agent Susan, and how there seems to be a connection between the two of them although they only meet at the very end," comments Van Heusden. "Throughout the film you cut back to see the chase from her perspective. It's a tricky thing but I chose to run with it."

The Arctic backdrop will play a meaningful role but not in an aesthetically pleasing "National Geographic" kind of way. It will be less an awesome spectacle, deployed more to underline the extent of Woody's psychological dilemma. "When I went there for the first time I was overwhelmed by how depressing it was. It's really a landscape that makes you feel replaceable, of no significance whatsoever as a human being. If you remain alive or if you die, nothing matters. There is a vast amount of rock that has been there forever and will continue to be there forever,
and the only thing that is a little bit out of place is you."

Despite being Dutch and receiving development support from the Netherlands Film Fund, the film will shoot in Canada with Inuit and North American leads. "I still have this boyish belief that it is a great story that was given to me already a long time ago. I have been with it for over 10 years and looking for the right way to tell it, but also the right way to finance it," Van Heusden stresses.

He further tells of the enthusiasm he has thus far encountered among indigenous Canadians. "Last year I travelled to Nunavut in the very north of the country where there is an Inuit community called Cambridge Bay. I went there to see how they lived and to share about their lives and to talk about the film and tell them about Woody. It was really a great experience, and people were like ‘oh I want to see that film' and ‘we'll put you guys up' and ‘I know a good location for this'..."

Van Heusden is confident that the Atélier will offer creative support as well as promotion and opportunities to raise further finance. "If it was just to fill the gaps in the financing then... (he trails off). But during the selection process there were all these questions on the creative side, about the heart of the story and the way I want to tell it. I am looking forward to continuing that conversation in Cannes."

SEE NL Magazine #35 May 2019 / Cannes - Annecy Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by Eye International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.

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