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The Ice that Still Supports Us

Experimental, philosophical and ironic documentary from Estonia takes viewers on a chaotic journey along an elusive ice road - from the Baltic Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


The Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival is back once again with its 27th edition (has it been that long already?) and with it comes another eclectic selection of films spread over several competitions. The Baltic Film Competition is a category aimed at showcasing the best films that come from the Baltic States, offering filmmakers a platform to get their films shown on the biggest stage. This year, the category is exhibiting a selection of interesting documentaries and one of those is Arlo Okk’s incredibly experimental film, The Ice That Still Supports Us. Okk’s film about an ice road that connects Noarootsi to Haapsalu was eight years in the making, with the outcome resulting in an often mind-bending but simple adventure into the culture of the locals, the history of the road, and the pride it holds in people’s lives.

The Ice That Still Supports Us is a film of great irony as it attempts to expel philosophical ideas that the Greek traveller Pyheas once had when his own escapades – over 23 centuries ago – took him to the lands of the Baltic nations. Although, the film is quite esoteric with what it preaches; it might only be understood by a few because it frequently blurs the line between its narrative and a quite perplexing filmmaking style. The examination of the inhabitants who use the ice road not only for travel, but for games, celebrations, and competitions, is attentive and discreet, but this simple idyllic life they have forged for themselves might be facing a minor peril.

The narrative can often become a little hazy, with a lot of the questions and queries being left up in the air, so if you’re not paying attention, then you could very well miss important details. The story revolves around one particular ice road, a route that commuters and delivery drivers often use as a shortcut between the Estonian towns of Noarootsi and Haapsalu. Okk delves into the lives of the people who work to maintain the road, the individuals who live near it and appreciate its importance, plus, all those that use it in their day-to-day lives. Not all is as it seems though because, the problem that creeps through the cracks of this film is that the ice is becoming thinner and thinner, something that the mayor raises concerns about during one of his visits. It becomes an issue for the locals whose infrastructure and community rely on the income the road offers. Activities like drag racing on the ice, the constant shipment of deliveries along the route, plus festivals such as the ‘Summer Days’ Day all play a part in the use of the road.

Okk uses a variety of filmmaking techniques and methods that make this film quite unique, on top of the usual interviews that structure these kinds of documentaries too. The packing scene feels slightly sped up and introduces obscure sounds which almost make it feel and look like an animated film, which is fabulously creative. There are moments that feel like a home video movie too, with the rawness and the shaky footage combined with the blue and grey aesthetic that allows it to travel back in time and become something from the 1980s. On top of that, it looks as though it was filmed with a variety of lenses in order to spice up the framing and the contents. Whether it’s wide shots, or segments with a shallow depth of focus, plus a kind of pincushion effect thrown in at several points are all merged together. It looks purposely chaotic. The filmmaker does allow us to travel along the ice road with him, even though it feels a little anticlimactic.

The director’s decision to go down this experimental route could be because the story is lacking a little in content – how much can you explore about an ice road, really? In a last-ditch effort to jazz things up, this menagerie of styles and aesthetics has been included to create the allure of a more exciting film than what would usually be possible. The film becomes less engaging due to the lack of content, and especially the omission of crucial details regarding the people, the origins of the road and the town. Okk seems to have put all his eggs in this experimental basket hoping it would take the film up a notch, but the narrative holes are too hard to ignore, and the stylistic approach taken is a bit too smothering.

The Ice that Still Supports Us just premiered in the Baltic Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By John McDonald - 15-11-2023

Failing from the seaside town of Southport but now living in Liverpool, John McDonald has had a passion for cinema since he was a small child. The westerns of John Wayne were his gateway into the cine...

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