Filmed on location in Canada’s Northwest Territories (Yellowknife and Dettah) and the desert interior region of British Columbia (the Ashcroft Band Lands, Cache Creek and Kamloops), Red Snow is the story of Dylan, a Gwich’in soldier from the Canadian Arctic, who is caught in an ambush in Panjwayi, Afghanistan. His capture and interrogation by a Taliban Commander release a cache of memories connected to the love and death of his Inuit cousin, Asana, and binds him closer to a Pashtun family as they escape across treacherous landscapes and through a blizzard that becomes their key to survival.
Red Snow is Marie Clements‘ debut feature film. Learn more about the concept, the making, and current plans for the film, as Clements joins my 5 Questions With… series.
HM: Let’s start with the beginning of the film’s concept. I read that you were inspired for Red Snow after seeing photos of people in Afghanistan… how their pain and resilience reminded you of the experiences of Indigenous people. How did the story for the film come together?
Marie Clements (MC): I think it was maybe inspired by angles. The moment you can see someone and recognize them. Survival by using your cultural identity, your past, and by the human capacity to create family not just out of blood but out of heart.
HM: I like how Dylan’s story evolves throughout the film, and how it ends up being connected to his Afghani counterpart, Asana and his family’s story. Their stories are interconnected by unfortunate circumstances, but they do touch upon themes of survival of the self, of one’s culture and language. Could you please expand on how you worked with the four actors in terms of how their stories evolved and connected over time.
MC: As the writer, I was working to weave these story lines so that they could intersect and impact each other in ways that resonate and echo. As a director, I think I was very fortunate to be working with an ensemble of actors that could innately connect to this idea out their own personal histories but who were also willing to embody the collision of these realities emotionally and physically.
HM: I truly appreciate the use of various languages to complement the metaphors, imagery, songs and storytelling in the film. In my opinion, these are some of the main parts that drive the story. I’d appreciate it, if you could talk about the importance of incorporating four languages in the film (Gwich’in, Inuvialuktun, Pashto and English).
MC: It became so important to understand these characters not only in relation to each other, but to the land and the language of that land. Integrating the language was a huge commitment for everyone involved and literally grounded us. We had cultural keepers/translators who were with us every word, every sentence, very step on set, every frame on screen, and we had actors who had to learn and then act in completely new languages. We knew it was an intense responsibility but also an incredible priviledge and honour. A game changer in that it was humbling, and an emotional experience to witness Indigenous languages that are still here.
HM: In Red Snow landscape is very important. I understand that you filmed in British Columbia and in the Northwest Territories. I believe you had five (5) days to film on location in NWT. Could you share what that process was like for you and the cast?
MC: Filming in the NWT was like going home. We shot in Yellowknife, and the small community of Dettah and we were really surrounded by the warmth of the community there and by the filmmaking community in the north – both of these things made it possible to survive our schedule and the sometimes -50C days. We shot in the interior of BC for Afghanistan when it was primary +40C days and in flood and fire threats. We were on the land for a very large portion of our shooting days and in many ways the actors had to experience the land like their characters would. It was grueling but exhilarating and our crews were rock stars. We bonded together, or we would have not made it.
HM: Red Snow has screened at various festivals and it is your first feature film. Audiences from the festival circuit have enjoyed the film; congratulations! Now that it is getting a wider online release in Canada, will people in arctic communities be able to see it and what is your hope audiences take away from to the film?
HM: It was pretty amazing to be on the red carpet in Dettah, when we premiered in the NWT to sold out audiences at the Yellowknife Film Festival and the Available Lights Festival in the Yukon… so I am hoping more communities from the north will be able to see Red Snow, and that the rest of Canada will be able to push the download button. Like all filmmakers, I hope an audience will be able see Red Snow, and at this time we are in, the take away makes sense to hope we connect to the idea – that the strength of our survival has always been people coming together despite what threatens to separate us, and despite the odds.
You can support and enjoy this film from the comfort of home – Red Snow is now available on Apple TV.