THE SNOW WALKER—-favorable write-ups didn’t help this 2003 survival-spirit adventure earn more than a starved $201,000 from whatever showings it booked. Charles Martin Smith had a career-high role in Never Cry Wolf, and his appreciation of the Arctic visions of Farley Mowat drove him to direct and write the screenplay to Mowat’s short story “Walk Well, My Brother”, a pocket-sized drama pitting two distinctly different people against the stunning and unforgiving environment.
Smith wove elements from other stories by the author into the 103 minutes of physical trauma and emotional discovery that befalls an arrogant and prejudiced bush pilot (Barry Pepper) and his young tuberculosis-stricken Inuit passenger (Annabella Piagattuk). Their plane goes down a hundred miles from help (it’s 1953, with limited contact choices) and someone has to learn a few things if they’re going to have any chance of getting out.
Filmed for $8,000,000 around Churchill in Manitoba and at striking locales in Quebec and British Columbia, it builds in quiet strength as it goes, and the actors are excellent. Miss Piagattuk is a first-timer and a natural, and it’s one of the inventive Pepper’s best ever, including a bravura all-for-art bit where he is swarmed, for real, by those ferocious northern mosquitoes.
A feather in the director’s cap for Smith, who put his dedicated cast and crew into some scenes shot in temps of -18F, with wind-chill driving that down to -49. On occasion filming was hazarded by intruding polar bears. With James Cromwell, Kiersten Warren, Jon Gries and Robin Dunne. Audiences missed a rewarding experience when they ignored this little gem.